I reviewed this movie for my film and literature class. I chose Everything Is Illuminated because I think it an exceptional picture. This film is one of the reasons why I have such a passion for the cinema. I believe it has every key ingredient that makes a great film.
Everything is Illuminated is based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer. The story follows a young Jewish-American man who is trying to find the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II. His journey takes him to the Ukraine in search of the small village where his Grandfather lived. He solicits the assistance of two Ukrainian tour-guides (A young man and his grandfather) to help him in his “rigid” search.
This is so much more than a road trip movie. It is filled with breathtaking cinematography, well timed direction, and an all too clever script. It’s a shame the Ukraine isn’t more of a tourist spot. City dwellers and rural farmers alike can drool at the stunning mountains and hills. The landscape is painted with silky green grass and a plethora of vivacious plants and flowers. The camera captures magnificent shots that reassure its’ rich and soulful direction. There are several wide zooms and pans. The audience gets the gift of cinematic eye candy. There are high angles that slowly descend upon the actor(s) to present the magnificent setting. If a picture is worth a thousand words, and the typical movie has over a thousand shots; the viewer could very well write a novel on this film‘s spectacle. This movie uses scenery and mise en scene in a whole new way. An illustration of this was the use of minor characters as a prop to explain certain elements of the film. One of these elements is the movie's flashbacks to WWII. There are several times that we see men and women that are natives to the area.
These cameo characters have no lines to memorize. Instead, they merely stand or pose while their natural habitat flourishes around them. These characters are in their late sixties and seventies. Their appearances have certainly changed throughout the years, but the landscape around them has hardly changed at all. These people show how War and hardship can age a man, but not his country. Nature has the luxury of being far less fleeting than man. Fifty years go by, and nature can hardly tell the difference.
This film has an impressive soundtrack. All the songs in the film are indigenous to the Ukraine. A few songs are works of one of the actors, Eugene Hutz. Eugene is the Ukrainian lead singer of Gogol Bordello. Gogol Bordello is a gypsy-punk-rock band. My initial interest in the film was that Eugene was one of its’ stars. Gogol Bordello’s music is charismatic and feral. It fit in perfectly with the untouched and somewhat anarchic setting of the film. The music is mostly off screen. There is no visual representation of the music we hear. It serves more as a soundtrack to our character's expedition. All songs had an Eastern European feel. The film infused sounds of brass instruments, accordions, and most importantly; the fiddle. In a way, this helps to authenticate the rich culture of the story. The main character is Ukrainian, and so are his travel companions. The music also ties into one of the film’s central themes: Through the past, everything is found. Having a sense of heritage and awareness gives a man direction. When one realizes this, such clarity can make all the difference. That particular notion was well received through the writing and direction.
This film peels like and onion. There are several layers our characters must remove before discovering the truth. The script does a great job of holding its own in that aspect. The dialogue between the Alex (Eugene Hutz) and Jonathan ( Elijah Wood) is a chief example of this. We see two characters with a natural connection. The problem is, neither of them know why. As the journey progresses and the past makes itself known, their eyes are opened to just how connected they are.
Everything Is Illuminated is both tragic and hilarious. Everything is real, and everything is plausible. The only flaw is the time constraint of film. The book offers more explanation and detail on what the flashbacks entail and what actually happened in them. There are always creative liberties taken in a film’s adaptation of a novel. For this, the viewer can be either delighted or enraged. In my opinion, both the film and the novel are lovely and unique. One could not ask for a more original and touching story.
This film is already out to DVD. You can pick it up or rent it several places here locally. Hastings is always my favorite, but you can also find this at Wal-Mart, Best- Buy, or Amazon. Whatever suits you best.: