Those of you who have read Jonathan Safran Foer’s pitch-perfect novel know exactly what to expect from Liev Schreiber’s film – and will unavoidably be left slightly disappointed with the result. Not because there’s anything wrong with Schreiber’s Everything Is Illuminated, but merely because Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Everything is Illuminated“ is so complete and full of energy, that its fans tend to hold it too close to heart and would prefer if no one went near it (I’m surprised we even allowed anybody to turn it into a film in the first place). But taking the film separately, and judging it objectively, is essential – perhaps I should even advise readers to approach Schreiber’s film before reading the book. There’s no return after experiencing Foer’s novel – and it’s a shame.
Read at Unsung Films: Liev Schreiber and Larry David in Clear History.
It’s a great shame, because Liev Schreiber’s Everything is Illuminated is so beautifully bizarre and meaningful, that it deserves a study of its own. It knows how to suddenly change mood and go from slapstick to wittily awkward humour, and from warmly loving to devastatingly painful. Family unions, bleeding memories, pride and regrets are put in the same context as whimsical Wes-Anderson-like randomness and Coen-Brothers-like Jewishness. The film’s distinct mystic atmosphere is one of its strongest points – with its travelling, nostalgic story and its mismatching, awkward performances following closely. But really, it’s Liev Schreiber’s general feeling that separates the film from its original story and makes it worth exploring individually.
Two very different sides come together and three people poles apart – together with the strangest and most beautiful dog in the world, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. – embark on the strangest trip imaginable around Ukraine. On the one hand, we have Jonathan Safran Foer, a young Jewish American (Elijah Wood) who is searching for the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during World War II, and on the other, we have Ukrainian grandfather and grandson Alex and Alex (Boris Leskin and Eugene Hutz), a family specializing in “tours of dead Jews”, driving Jews around the Ukrainian villages in search of their roots. This unlikely friendship and rare collaboration sometimes works for out characters and sometimes doesn’t. Sometimes it’s humorous and others, destructive for everyone involved.
When it’s humorous – it’s hilarious. The first half of Everything is Illuminated is straightforwardly amusing and laugh-out-loud funny. The second half, however, comes to find viewers who haven’t read the book unprepared for the sensitive subjects it will touch upon and the difficulty watching that they’re going to experience. But even for the rest of us, somehow, putting images to the often devastating words we read in Jonathan Safran Foer’s book makes it all way heavier. Is Foer’s book a humorous one? Overall, I’d say so. But is its adaptation a comedy? Definitely not.
But what is worth mentioning is that the comedy never becomes too flamboyant and the melancholy never reaches melodramatic levels. A beautifully romantic and nostalgic atmosphere balances out the two extremes that the film reaches at different times of its life, making Everything is Illuminated perhaps hard to watch but difficult to let go and overall, necessary. Liev Schreiber directs Boris Leskin, Eugene Hutz and Elijah Wood in the most peculiar way – with neck close-ups from behind, open bathtub shots from above, faraway walking sequences and seemingly irrelevant sunflower blasts before and after the darkest, gloomiest moments. And his actors don’t let him down; they stick with him until the end, giving him everything he asks for. Don’t take your eyes off Boris Leskin – a one of a kind actor who doesn’t need to speak; he made me laugh and cry without a word. It’s all in his eyes.
Everything is Illuminated at IMDb
Everything is Illuminated (film) at Wikipedia
Everything is Illuminated (novel) at Wikipedia
Everything is Illuminated (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb