A young Jewish American man endeavors to find the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II in a Ukrainian village, that was ultimately razed by the Nazis, with the help of an eccentric local.
Release Year: 2005
Rating: 7.5/10 (27,568 voted)
Critic's Score: 58/100
Stars: Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin
A young Jewish American flies to the Ukraine in search of his grandfather's past. He has a photograph and the name of a village. He hires the Odessa Heritage Tours, made up of a gruff old man and his English-speaking grandson. The three, plus grandfather's deranged dog, travel in an old car from Odessa into Ukraine's heart. Jonathan, the American, is a collector, putting things he finds into small plastic bags, so he will remember. Alex, the interpreter, is an archetypal wild and crazy guy. Alex asks the old man, "Was there anti-Semitism in the Ukraine before the war?" Will they find the village? The past illuminates everything.
Writers: Jonathan Safran Foer, Liev Schreiber
Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan's Grandfather Safran
Alexander Perchov, Father
Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.
Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.
Woman on Train
Ukrainian Band Member
(as Sergej Rjabcev)
Leave Normal Behind.
Warner Independent Pictures [United States] |
Release Date: 16 September 2005
Filming Locations: Odessa, Ukraine
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $66,806
(18 September 2005)
(27 November 2005)
Did You Know?
The magazine that Alex and his brother actually reads "Large Furniture".
When Jonathan, Alex, his grandfather and Lista meet by the river, the moon is full, but it was only three-quarters full the night before. However, this could have been a creative choice by the filmmakers to show that "everything is illuminated" in that scene.
How much currency would a first-rate accountant receive in America?
I don't know, a lot, probably, if he or she is good.
Are there Negro accountants?
Yes, there are *African American* accountants, but you don't want to use that word.
And homosexual accountants?
There are homosexual *everythings*. There are homosexual garbage men.
And how much currency would a Negro homosexual accountant receive?
You really shouldn't use that word.
Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this movie at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.
Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated
is the directorial debut of actor Liev Schreiber. Schreiber also wrote
the screenplay. In the movie, Jonathan (Elijah Wood) obsessively
collects items from his family, from toothbrushes to retainers to
scraps of paper which he then seals in ziploc bags and pins to a wall
in his house to record his family history. But the space for his
grandfather is conspicuously bare. All Jonathan really has of him is a
piece of jewelry and an old photo of him with a woman who hid him from
the Nazis during the Second World War. Jonathan decides to undertake a
quest to Ukraine to find the woman, thank her, and learn more about his
His quest is aided there by a couple of characters who run a tourist
company for Jewish people, including a young man obsessed with western
culture (Eugene Hutz), his grandfather (Boris Leskin), who thinks he is
blind and who may have memories and demons of his own from the war, and
his grandfather's temperamental seeing eye dog.
The screenplay effectively combines both humour and drama as the three
characters travel through the countryside looking for Jonathan's
grandfather's town, driving deeper and deeper into the memories of the
past. The best performance probably comes from Eugene Hutz, playing
Alex Jr., who starts the movie as a tracksuit-wearing, break dancing
slacker just out to have fun but evolves into something more as not
only Jonathan, but all the characters gain their own illumination.
Liev Schreiber, Elijah Wood, and Eugene Hutz attended the screening and
did a very humorous Q&A after the film:
– Schreiber was very close to his grandfather, who was a Ukranian
immigrant, and who died in 1993. This caused him to start to write to
get his memories down on paper. Meanwhile, he was asked to do a reading
of Foer's short story, The Very Rigid Search, which was an excerpt from
the still unpublished novel. Schreiber was blown away by the quality of
the writing, saying that Foer had done in 15 pages what Schreiber tried
to do in 107. Schreiber approached Foer and they talked about their
grandfathers, culture, movies, and the nature of short-term memory in
America; in the end, Foer agreed to let Schreiber adapt the book.
– Schreiber's own project was intended to be a road movie, but the book
has parallel narrative that is an imagined chronological history of the
town of Trochenbrod that spans 500 years; given his budget and
limitations as a filmmaker, he said he'd leave that to Milos Forman and
take the road trip instead. This imagined chronology was what moved him
to make the movie in the first place, the idea that "a past lovingly
imagined was as valuable as a past accurately recalled".
– Schreiber said the movie was a series of happy accidents. After
searching unsuccessfully in Ukraine for an actor, he was walking
through the Lower East Side in New York, when he saw a poster of a
woman centaur, topless from the waist up, with an insane cossack
sitting astride her. Under the poster said the name Gogol Bordello
Ukranian Punk Gypsy Band.
Eugene Hutz then took over the story. He had never pursued acting as
music was his first passion. One day, a friend gave him the book, and
he thought it was written in a manner similar to how he writes music;
screw sentences/syntax, language is my own.
Later, they got a call from a production company, looking for eastern
European music that was medieval but modern. Hutz met with Schreiber,
and he soon found the movie was based on the book he just happened to
be reading. Not long after that came up, Schreiber asked Hutz what he
thought about Alex and whether he could do the character by any chance.
– Foer and Schreiber talked about the film in the fall of 2001, shortly
after the events of September 11. Both were in Europe at the time and
they talked about the derogatory comments they were hearing about
Americans, which led Schreiber to want to try to find an articulate
American who would defy the stereotype that Europeans have of
Americans. Someone who was awkward, vulnerable, flawed, innocent, and
looking for history beyond the borders of his own country. Schreiber
started thinking about who that was, and Elijah came up.
One of Schreiber's inspirations as a filmmaker is Emir Kusturica (I
think that's who he said, who also directed a segment in another
festival movie, All the Invisible Children) who said "you don't look
for the actors, you look for the people." Schreiber said there is
something about who Elijah is that he has a generosity of spirit and a
sincere goodness as a human being, that came across on film. Schreiber
said that the eyes are important when trying to articulate a character
who is an observer, and that if "eyes are the doors to the soul,
Elijah's are garage doors."
– Elijah Wood had fun with a question about the similarities between
his character Kevin in Sin City and Jonathan in this movie as both are
sort of a blank slate on which emotions are projected. Wood replied
that Jonathan may seem still and seemingly emotionless, but it is all
about his observations, about his experiences with other characters and
the environment he was in.
– On the differences between directing and writing: Schreiber said he
likes writing a lot more and jokingly described directing as "hell".
After his grandfather died, Schreiber started to think about how to
preserve some sense of history and himself; is he content driven or
not, or just good at interpreting other people's work? He said he loved
the exercise of figuring out what is emotional to you, important to