Saturday, September 08, 2007

Everything is Illuminated

My mother recommended this film to me after taking a trip to the Ukraine this summer to explore our ancestral homelands in the villages near Odessa. Our relatives were Germans from Alsace who had fled as refugees to the "bread basket" of Russia, having been invited to settle and develop that area by Catherine the Great. (See here) As mom continues to explore this side of our history, more and more fascinating details have come to light.

In this film, a young Jewish man named Jonathan, played by Elijah Wood, is a collector of his family's artifacts--strange things, like his brothers underwear or his grandmother's false teeth. His grandmother, as she lays dying, gives him a photograph of his grandfather as a young man standing next to a pregnant woman, who is not his grandmother.

Jonathan travels to the Ukraine to solve the mystery of who the woman is and encounters an old man and his hipster grandson who is also his hilarious translator. The three of them, with the old man's dog, named Sammy Davis Junior, Jr., travel throughout the countryside searching for a very small village. It is apparent that the old man has a secret that is somehow related to this place they are searching for.

The film is very funny, and also very poignant as both young men discover many new things about their grandfathers and their families' histories. The film is structured in chapters of a book that one learns, at the end, is being written by the translator for Jonathan to describe how profoundly moving their trip was for him and "to leave a record for those who may come looking."

As mom said, the film is a wonderful representation of the landscape and general feeling of the rural areas around Odessa, and it is really a great and very entertaining story. Two thumbs up.

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