Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pose Reviews a Movie. #13: Everything Is Illuminated

I'll bet you thought Liev Schreiber was only good for playing Sabertooth, huh?

Well, it turns out he can write a mean screenplay--and shoot it, too!

Everything Is Illuminated, based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, is an extraordinary directorial debut for this actor-turned-director. It's a genuinely touching story about a young man devoted to collecting artifacts owned by, or relevant to, his ancestors, and his quest to find out more about the one ancestor he knows the least about.

The film chronicles Jonathan, played by an endearingly deadpan Elijah Wood, through his trip to Ukraine, where he searches for the woman who saved his Jewish grandfather from the Nazis during World War II. However, despite its seemingly heavy concept, Everything Is Illuminated strikes a balance between humour and drama without either losing its effectiveness.

The humour comes in the form of Alex, Jonathan's Ukranian tour-guide whose charming butcherings of the English language make him a delightful pseudo-narrator. Alex and his grandfather are entrepreneurs who run a business helping affluent Jewish folk track down their deceased ancestors, and Alex especially seems genuinely (and refreshingly) enthusiastic about helping his fellow man. (Even if he can't express it in grammatically-correct English.)

The drama, however, comes from the thorough emotional connection that Jonathan makes with his family's past while on his pilgrimage to his grandfather's village of origin. This is truly a film about tracing your roots, and it can strike a pretty loud chord with anyone who has a soft spot for genealogy.

Everything Is Illuminated seems to be informally divided into two halves. It ropes you in with humour at the beginning in order to keep you on board for a dramatic and somewhat unexpected destination at the end. It handles both of these distinctive genres very well, and offers a truly rich cinematic experience as a result.

My only issue with the film was the way it dealt with certain flashbacks. It wasn't always clear who was being flash-backed to, which meant I had to spend about fifteen minutes at the end sorting out what had actually happened in certain scenes. But surely taking a quick trip to Wikipedia after the film, or reading the novel (which I hear is fantastic) will solve this minor problem quickly, and it certainly wasn't major enough to ruin the movie.

Overall, Everything Is Illuminated is a veritable highlight of our "Actors Attempting To Direct" section, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's in the mood for a comedy, a drama, or both.

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