Everything is Illuminated

Warner Home Video

This is a premium sleeper. It’s quirky and slow and rather “foreign,” but I urge you to check it out. Elijah Wood is a “Men in Black” introverted Jew who enshrines his family history in sandwich bags. An entire wall holds dentures, dirt, receipts and other heirlooms. After keeping a bedside vigil for a dying grandmother, he decides to travel to the Ukraine to learn about the woman his dead father almost married. There he’s escorted through hostels and construction sites by a seemingly anti-Semitic old man, his insane dog and his son, who worships all things American (basketball, John Holmes, disco). The tour guide turns out to be the key to the mystery surrounding the woman. The twist ending is poignant and haunting, with reverberations of the situation in the present-day Middle East. The script manages to go from the strange to the comedic to the tragic with seamless grace. The Eastern European soundtrack is gorgeous, almost like Tin Hat or Tom Waits. And the photography of sunflowered landscapes is equally beautiful. Liev Schreiber (the actor) makes his directorial debut with great aplomb, but judging from the always-gratuitous deleted scenes, he could have easily ruined the film with pretentious grandstanding and over-expostulation.