I have a confession to make: I’m not a die-hard fan of art-house movies. To my way of thinking, their producers, while supposedly creating high-brow, intellectual art for discerning connoisseurs, in most cases generate an incoherent stream of images leaving the viewer confused if not indignant. Having said that, I hasten to add that I do appreciate rare exceptions, all the more so if they touch upon hot topics of the modern society. One of these unique masterpieces is the film Everything Is Illuminated.
It starts on a gloomy note showing a young Jew Jonathan, a taciturn weirdo in ridiculously huge glasses, on the deathbed of his grandfather. It turns out that his grandfather was helped to flee from the Ukraine invaded by fascists, and the young boy sets his sights on finding the rescuer, his might-have-been grandmother, in order to pay her his respect as well as explore the terra incognita, their motherland.
With the beginning of the second part, the mood of the film abruptly changes turning into a hilarious comedy. With catchy Ukranian melodies playing in the background, we are shown an argumentative and eccentric family from Odessa that earns their living by organizing “tours of memory” for rich Jews. The elderly grandfather, a confirmed nationalist, drives his wreck of a car while his grandson, with his broken, hilariously stand-offish English, serves as a translator. Their nervously barking dog adds up to the comical effect.
So, Jonathan timidly gets off the train in the middle of nowhere. Their tour starts, and the viewer is bound to laugh their heads off watching the clash of two very different mentalities. It is no wonder that the reticent young American and a boisterous boy from Odessa struggle to understand each other. However, an attentive viewer will see beyond the comic size, eagerly watching the growing affinity between the two youngsters.
In the third part of the film the cheerful mood gives way to the thoughtful atmosphere with its philosophical dwelling on eternal questions. Far from imposing any ideas, the film unobtrusively brings up such issues as nationalism, self-identity and meaning of life. At the same time, the story reaches its climax. Not wishing to give any spoilers, I will only mention that the reader is in for some unexpected twists of the plot.
The film description will be incomplete without mentioning superb skills of Eugene Huts, the leader of the internationally renowned band Gogol Bordello, whose portrayal of the grandson is beyond the highest praise.