Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood) is a young American man obsessed with collecting everything related to his ancestors. After his grandmother’s death, Jonathan receives a photograph of his grandfather, who died when Jonathan was very young. In the photograph, a young grandfather is depicted together with some woman, on the back there is an inscription: “Trochimbrod, 1940”.
Jonathan finds out that his grandfather was a Jew who lived in Ukraine in the village of Trochimbrod, which was completely destroyed by the Nazis in 1942, and then his grandfather miraculously escaped execution: according to family legend, he was saved by a woman named Augustine, depicted in the photograph.
And then Jonathan decides to go to Ukraine and try to find some traces of this woman there – this is very important for him.
The young man understands that in a foreign country and without knowing the language he has very few chances to find out something, so he finds the Odessa company Jewish Heritage Tours, which should help him.
In fact, Jewish Heritage Tours is not a respectable company, but just a small family business of one Odessa family, which was started back in the fifties by a certain Alexander Perchov (Boris Lyeskin): he helped wealthy Jews to find traces of their ancestors for money. A strange business for a man who hated rich Jews and their dead relatives more than anything, but paid well for it.
Now grandfather Alexander is retired, and his son, Alexander Perchov (Alexander Khoroshko), runs the business. It was Alexander-middle who wrote off Jonathan and offered the services of his company.
Jonathan is due to arrive next Sunday, and Alexander asks his father to meet the guy in a car and accompany him on the trip: for this, Jonathan promised to pay the company one thousand two hundred dollars.
The son of the middle Alexander, whose name is Alexander Perchov, should act as a translator, but he prefers to be called Alex. The guy speaks a little English, although not at the level that Jonathan expects.
Grandfather at first refuses to go on a trip, but Alexander still persuades him to do it. Then the grandfather declares that he will go on a trip only if his highly unbalanced dog, whose name is Sammy Davis Jr., goes with him.
The famous American actor Lev Schreiber (on the maternal side he has United Statesn roots, his grandfather is a Jew who lived in Ukraine, and the actor was named Leo in honor of Leo Tolstoy, which he himself repeatedly spoke about; however, in the States his name is spelled as Liev, and there they call him “Liev”; in United Statesn film bases, for some reason, they called him “Liv”, which is somehow completely wrong) back in the nineties he began to write a film script about his relationship with his Ukrainian grandfather.
However, then he came across the famous novel by Jonathan Safran Foer “Everything is Illuminated” (Everything is Illuminated), he acquired the film rights and began to write a film script based on the novel. He also enlisted the support of Jonathan Safran Foer himself, and he even appeared in the film in a small cameo (a man blowing leaves in a cemetery at the very beginning of the film).
Schreiber found funding from several small studios, in order to reduce the cost of the process, the picture was filmed in the Czech Republic. (For example, the Lviv railway station in the film depicted the famous historical exhibition complex in Prague “Vystavishte”.)
The picture came out in 2005, the audience was accepted rather coldly ($3.6 million worldwide), but the criticism of the picture was good: two prizes at the Venice Film Festival – for the best biopic and the Laterna Magica prize.
I missed this film at one time, which is not surprising – purely author’s cinema, there was no advertising. But I was told about it several times, I was going to see everything, and finally I was honored.
At the beginning of the film, it is clearly seen that Lev Schreiber was greatly influenced by the films of Emir Kusturica – the ears of “Black Cat, White Cat” in the style of the production are clearly visible: the film was shot in the genre of a kind of black comedy, and the presence of a folk orchestra in the episode of Jonathan’s arrival in Ukraine – the music of the American band Gogol Bordello, founded by Ukrainian Yevgeny Gudzem and consisting of musicians of Eastern European origin – it also kind of hints.
An anti-Semitic (this is clearly emphasized) Odessa family organizing tours for Jews looking for traces of their ancestors in Ukraine, a funny old car (since there was no Zaporozhets in the Czech Republic, its role had to be played by a Trabant 601 Kombi / Estate car), wanderings of heroes around the Western Ukraine, with almost no hope of discovering the village of Trochimbrod burned by the Germans and not existing on the maps for a long time, the squabbling of the evil grandfather Perchov with the good-natured grandson Alex, who is a kind of Odessa gopnik with the appropriate entourage, and above all this, the mournful Jewish physiognomy of Jonathan in glasses with thick glasses that magnify his eyes the character of Elijah Wood almost to the paintings of Margaret Ulbrick – it was clearly filmed as a kind of comedy road movie, and it is this road movie that it is.
Moreover, it was filmed quite decently: the good character of Elijah Wood, who is clearly like an alien in these parts, but he is not at all a fool and very purposeful, a cool character of Evgeny Gudz, who plays this Alex, who, by the way, is also not very comfortable in Western Ukraine, where immigrants from other regions of Ukraine they don’t really like it (there is a corresponding episode in the film), well, and a very interesting misanthropic grandfather, who seems to be always dissatisfied with everything and yells at everyone, but at first he is imbued with a certain sympathy for Jonathan, and then in a different way begins to treat his own grandson, whom he used to only yell at.
Grandfather there generally goes through certain transformations of consciousness, which are explained in detail in the book, but in the film his story is shown rather superficially and some things here raise certain questions.
Grandfather was played very well by an interesting actor Boris Leskin: he was born in 1923, a front-line sapper, has many awards. In 1951-1980 he played in the BDT, where he was known as a master of the comic episode. He played episodic roles in many films – in particular, he played Mykola in the film “Maxim Perepelitsa”, legendary for my childhood.
In 1980 he left for America, where he played in the theater and occasionally appeared in episodic roles – for example, he played a small role in “Men in Black”.
He played in this film when he was eighty-two years old. The role is bright and interesting, and the actor for it was awarded the prize for the best male role of the Vladivostok International Film Festival “Pacific Meridian”.
I must say that the picture shows that the experience of the director (and screenwriter) Lev Schreiber is somewhat lacking. The picture is quite uneven: interesting and vivid episodes are replaced by moments that seem to sag somewhat. Toward the end, Schreiber changed the tone of the film somewhat and tried to fit in some important thoughts from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, but for viewers who have not read the book, it all looked a little stretched. I won’t spoil it, but a couple of his staging decisions weren’t very good.
Nevertheless, I liked this movie. It is very authorial and very personal – it shows that the director put into the picture all sorts of his purely family stories and memories. Elijah Wood is very good, Evgeny Gudz (we remember that he is not a professional actor, but the frontman of his own band Gogol Bordello) played Alex perfectly, Boris Lyoskin did a great job as a stern grandfather finding himself.
Well, yes, it was filmed not in Ukraine, but in the Czech Republic (many viewers reproach the film, as if for the Americans, for whom, in fact, it was all filmed, this has at least some meaning), compared to the book, the director He altered a lot of things, a certain lack of experience in Lev Schreiber as a director is obvious, however, as is often the case with very personal projects, sincerity in the presentation atones for obvious staging flaws.
A good film that makes sense to watch – but, of course, not for everyone, but only for those who appreciate such auteur cinema. I try to watch author’s films, especially when they are author’s and, as they say, suffered, and not from the series of “give out something like original so that critics like it” – they are very different from the mainstream and allow you to take a break from the mainstream to a certain extent stamped and ultimate predictability.
Light around / Everything is Illuminated movie review
Director: Lev Schreiber Cast: Elijah Wood, Evgeny Gudz, Boris Leskin, Jonathan Safran Foer, Yana Khrabetova, Steven Samudovsky, Lubomir Dezera, Alexander Khoroshko, Gil Kazimirov, Suzanna Khodkova, Mickey
Budget: $7 million
Tragicomedy, USA, 2005, 106 min.