Thursday, December 28, 2006

The finest film you have never heard of ...

"A long time ago son, before you was born dude..."
Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that long ago, but it has been a fair while since I first mentioned a fabulous film that I had just watched, which nobody seems to have heard of, which has intimate ties to a certain New York-based gypsy punk band.
The film, if you haven't already guessed, is Everything is Illuminated, the story of an American writer of sorts who travels to Ukraine in search of his roots, specifically the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis.
This American, Jonathan Safran Foer (who also happens to be the author of the novel), is played with great restraint, yet the right degree of quirkiness, by Elijah Wood. You see, Jonathan is a collector. The film opens with him as a young boy collecting the dentures of his grandmother from her deathbed. Ultimately his entire bedroom wall is festooned with baggies filled with his collectables.
And as he matures, he eventually he turns his attention to the story of his ancestors. As he cannot find the answers that he is seeking about his family history from his immediate family, particularly the identity of a mysterious woman in an aged photograph whom he knows is tied somehow to the story of his grandfather's immigration to America, he takes it upon himself to make a trip to the old country. And he embarks to Ukraine in search of Augustine and the long-lost village of Trachimbrod.
This is where he encounters the narrator of the ensuing "very rigid search", a young Ukrainian man named Alex, who is enamoured of all things American, and who is played with enormous charm and humour by Eugene Hutz.
Hutz actually makes his acting debut in Everything is Illuminated, being more well-known as the hugely mustached frontman for the frenetic gypsy punk band, Gogol Bordello. Much of the music from the soundtrack is performed by Gogol Bordello, and its infectious exuberance is hard to resist.
Alex is the diplomat and translator behind Odessa Heritage Tours, run by his father and chauffeured by his grandfather, to accomodate Jewish Americans who have been making pilgrimages to Ukraine in search of their ancestors. Most of Alex's proficiency in English comes from studying the Thesaurus, and is responsible for him spouting such fractured statements as:
"but I dig negroes; they are premium people"
"This is Sammy Davis Jr. Jr... She is Grandfather's Seeing Eye bitch. Father purchased her for him not because he believes Grandfather is blind, but because a Seeing Eye bitch is also a good thing for people who pine for the opposite of loneliness. In truth, Father did not purchase her at all, but merely retrieved her from the home for forgetful dogs. Because of this, she is not a real Seeing Eye bitch, and is also mentally deranged. "
Alex's quick-witted diplomacy allows him to offer translations like this:
Jonathan: "I am distressed by dogs"
Alex (in Ukrainian to Grandfather): "He is afraid of dogs"
Grandfather (in Ukrainian to Alex): "Bullshit, no one is afraid of dogs"
Alex: "My grandfather informs me that this is not possible."
Everything is Illuminated is a comedy, but it is not lightweight, nor is it feel-good and fluffy. There is great tragedy within this film, unexplained and unresolved, personal tragedy set in the present and historical tragedy of a people.
This film will make you ponder the nature of human cruelty and compassion, at the same time that it will have you quoting such gems as:
"many girls wish to be carnal with me because I am such a premium dancer"
And now, because you have indulged me so kindly as I have attempted to explain why you must see this film, here is a taste of the irrepressible Gogol Bordello - 60 Revolutions.

And I'm not sure why I included this picture of Eugene Hutz with a little old baba, but I just found it sweet.

Eva found the photo and she also just finished reading the book, so I've got a pile of catching up to do if I want to be as well versed in this genre as she is...


Anonymous said...

Very nice review Barbara. I saw the film recently too but didn't realize the gypsy punk connection and in fact hadn't heard of Gogol Bordello. I'm listening to it now though and loving it.

I had a really hard time staying engaged with the book and didn't finish it. I was glad to see the humour and sensitivity Liev Schrieber afforded the material though.

Allison said...


That was a great review. I've heard so much about this film, but I never made it around to watching it. I actually watched very few films this year, on the whole.

I love films that mix comedy, but make you think and everything isn't so neatly wrapped up and cookie-cutter, you know?

Enjoyed the track as well. Off to listen again.

Anonymous said...

Taking Film & Lit this next semester, this book was on the list so I imagine we'll be watching the film. The book's slow going so far -- not looking forward to the movie. Happy New Year!

Will said...

Well, I am really glad you mentioned this. I absolutely loved this film, having not read the book. The story was very powerful, and I thought Hutz was absolutely brilliant. I really thought his performance was award-worthy, and just another brilliant one to seep through. Also, who would have thought Liev Schreiber would make such a great director? Again, absolutely just love it! Must watch it again sometime. This makes me want to do more film posts.

Barbara said...

George S. has as his myspace song a song by Gogol Bordello called Start Wearing.
I was wondering where that came from...
I will look out for this film.

Stephanie said...

This was a great review. I have been meaning to see this film for a while but I haven't gotten around to it. You have renewed my interest in it, and I think I will rent it within the next week.

Anonymous said...

The dialogue makes me want to see it. I have previously read about the film but missed it, if and when it came through here. Now that I have a glorious week of freedom I will have to go and check it out.

Have you seen Central Station? It's quite wonderful. It's subtitled but I don't think you would be one to mind that.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I don't know much about Gogol Bordello either, Dale, except the bits I have reads in music mags. I understand their concerts are quite an experience, and I need to check out more of their music; it fairly rocks!
I see you aren't the only one who found the book onerous; I'll still give it a try though. I was really impressed with the treatment Liev Scrieber gave the film. Who knew?

I had to throw festooned in, don't you know, Allison?
You haven't had much time for film wacthing this year, I can understand that, but I think you would like this. It is hilarious, but as you say, there are no tidy endings and definitely no formula.
Great song, eh?

Hi Malnurtured Snay, welcome! A lot of people seem to have loved the film, but struggled through the book, so I hope you too will be pleasantly surprised by the film. Hutz is fabulous!

I love your film posts, Will; I'd love to read some more (you know, with all that spare time you have). Was this Scrieber's directing debut, do you know? I've only admired his acting to date, but yes, I thought he handled this so well.
I agree that Eugene Hutz was brilliant. Part of it was down to the charm of the character, of course, with his fractured English and his diplomacy, but he was stellar.
And I would love to see a Gogol Bordello show sometime. (adding it to my list of things to do...)

"Start Wearing Purple" is the entire name of the song, Barbara W, and you can hear it and some others over at Gogol Bordello's myspace.
It's quite a lovely film - the Ukrainian countryside, which isn't often portrayed in film, is stunning.

I hope you enjoy it, Stephanie; it really is utterly charming, yet dark at the same time. I always seem to like films of which there is only one copy at the video store.

The dialogue is brilliant, Toccata. We've been quoting snippets to each other for weeks now. I hope you enjoy this on your Glorious Week of Freedom.
I've not even heard of Central Station, but will certainly look into it, thanks. As long as the font is large enough for my failing eyes, I have no issues with subtitles.

She's Crafty said...

I have heard the title of this movie but don't remember where or by who? Thank you for the reminder. I love having new and great movies to watch. Now I know what I am going to get when I go to HMV to do a movie exchange;)

Will said...

I think it was Screiber's directing debut. Hutz seems like quite the all around performer. I've heard his DJ sets are somethin else.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oh yes, the old movie exchange, Serah. We have about 40 hours of South Park episodes to watch today. Woohoo! Slightly different from Everything Is Illuminated, but whatever.

Will, I can imagine his DJ sets are the BOMB! He is so energetic and wildly exuberant.

justacoolcat said...

Hmmmm, and here I was thinking Elijah Wood couldn't act. Outside of MiddleEarth, that is. I'll have to check it out and give the music a listen when I get home.

kelly said...

i never heard of that film...i'll have to try and find it, sounds good...maybe i'll festoon some popcorn with butter and dill pickle salt stuff and watch it

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I kept wondering if he had hairy feet, JACC. I'm still wondering.

I like the white cheddar topping myself, Kelly. Went to a movie-film yesterday and they were OUT of white cheddar! But movie popcorn is crap anymore anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'm no fan of Liev's acting but I really think he did a bang up job for his debut. Go Go Gogol!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Go Go Gogol, indeed, Dale! I've always thought of Liev Schrieber as a very decent actor, but he can sure direct rings around me.

phlegmfatale said...

HEY! I LOVE Gogol Bordello - I saw them in Dallas a few years ago - it was wild. I met Yuri and we chattered - he told me his wife's name is Rita and we had a grand time - Golly I love fun people!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oh how very cool - they do look like such a fun group, PF! I hear they put on a wild show. I want to explore their music more this coming year.