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UKScreen Rating:

Everything is Illuminated – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Jonathan (Wood) is a young American Jew who feels a strong connection with his past – not least through his collections of photos and family mementos.
The latest trinket to fall into his hands is a necklace, which belonged to a woman who helped his grandfather escape the Nazis in his Ukrainian homeland.
This prompts him to fly to Odessa to trace his roots. He pays an eccentric anti-semitic family to take him on a tour of the region, in the hope of finding the town where his grandfather lived.
At first, the mismatched group find it hard to get along, but soon, Jonathan’s guides – the enthusiastic young Ukrainian Alex (real-life punk singer Hutz) and his cantankerous grandfather (Leskin) – are learning as much about themselves as they are about Western culture, while the ancestral tourist seeks to find the truth about one of countless long-forgotten Holocaust tragedies.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

This film catches you unawares, as it changes from a “fish-out-of-water” comedy, with unexpected humour flowing from cultural differences and misunderstandings, to a profound drama about the Holocaust.
What’s most surprising is that while both parts of the film effectively generate the desired emotions, as a viewer, you don’t even notice the switch. You genuinely accompany Jonathan – and his newfound friends – on their respective journeys of discovery.
The characters themselves are suitably surreal – the hip, young translator, with a peculiarly skewed understanding of English, his grumpy grandfather, who’s the group’s driver, despite claiming to be blind and travelling everywhere with his “seeing eye

” and a hero, in Jonathan, whose obsessions and difficulty in relating to others borders on autistic.
Wood’s necessarily emotionless performance still manages to draw you in, although it recalls his characters from two recent films – his big glasses and sparse speech hark back to his role in Sin City (without the evil) and the assertion by a mysterious, wise character that “you came here because of the ring” will surely bring back memories of Frodo.
The film’s structure unnecessarily betrays its origin as a book and at times it sways from too surreal to too melodramatic, but while you’re unlikely to walk away feeling that everything is indeed illuminated by this film, it’s a refreshing new take on the Holocaust, which like Life Is Beautiful – but in its own way – manages to mix humour, warmth, pain and pathos.

Opens nationwide on 25th November 2005

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