Wednesday, November 02, 2005


What’s not to love about a film where there is a running joke taking the piss out of vegetarians and one of the lead characters is a Ukrainian Ali G? (Apologies, Veronika and Katya.)

EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED is based on the best-selling book by Jonathan Safran Foer - a book which I have admittedly not read. Writer/director Liev Schreiber focuses on one strand of the novel and tells the story of young Jewish geek called Jonathan Safran Foer (genius!) who goes to Ukraine to find the woman who saved his recently deceased grandfather from the Holocaust. Jonathan is played by Elijah Wood (that’s The Hobbit, to you) in a serviceable performance, but in truth he has little to do but be a cipher, wear ridiculous glasses and occasionally put things in Ziploc bags.

Jonathan has three Ukrainian guides: Alex Perchov – the Ali G of Odessa; his grandfather, who affects blindness and anti-semitism; and the grandfather’s “seeing-eye Bitch” Sammy Davis Junior Junior. Alex is a fantastic comic creation and is brought to life superbly by relative newcomer Eugene Hutz. His slight mis-steps with the English language are hilarious as is his wannabe B-boy pose: “All the ladies are wanting to get carnal with me because of my premium dance moves.” As a result, the first 45 minutes of this movie move along quickly with lots of laughs and more than a little debt to the shooting and cutting techniques that Guy Ritchie used in “Snatch”.

However, half way through, this movie flips into something altogether more ponderous, and in my view, less successful. It becomes clear that the real protagonist is not Jonathan but the grandfather, who must confront what happened to him during the war. The movie becomes very earnest indeed, and rather than letting the audience draw its own conclusions as to the weightiness of the subject matter, the Director hits us over the head with over-long close ups, and a Lord of the Rings style never-ending ending.

Overall, EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED is a decent film – especially the first half - but is let down by the turgid pacing of the final scenes. The direction, photography, sound, editing are all fine but nothing amazing, and I was astonished to see that Liev Schreiber won the Laterna Magica at the Venice Film Festival this year for this, his directorial debut. It’s worth checking out, but you could happily wait for the DVD.

EVERTHING IS ILLUMINATED is already on release in the US and goes on nationwide release in the UK on the 25th November. I am not aware of the European release dates.

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