Everything is Illuminated (2005)
In 'Everything is Illuminated' Elijah Wood plays Jonathan Safran Foer, a quiet young Jewish man who is a collector of items related to his family. When his dying grandmother gives him a picture of his late grandfather from the war era (WW2) standing together with a young woman who apparently saved his life during the war, he sets out on a quest to track the woman down. He arrives in Ukraine where he enlists the services of a company specializing in helping people like him find out about their progenitors. His guides wind up being a talkative young man named Alex (Eugene Hutz) whose English is quite funny and who has odd notions about the USA, and Alex's grandfather (Boris Leskin), a cranky anti-Semite who drives the car despite believing himself to be blind. The group is accompanied by Sammy Davis Jr. Jr., the grandfather's crazy "seeing eye" dog. They set out on a road journey in search of an obscure unheard of village, and on the way learn things about themselves, each other, and their family histories.
Firstly, visually this is a beautiful film, full of stunning vibrant imagery throughout. It's also delightful musically, featuring music and songs that you'll never have heard before that complement the visuals perfectly. The story sounds straightforward enough and is for the first two-thirds of the film; it's basic structure is familiar, with the oddball characters charming you and growing on you as they head further into the rural countryside and end up in various atypical situations. The last third takes a decidedly unexpected and emotionally gut wrenching turn and shifts the focus of the story in a surprising direction, though one that is hinted at throughout the film. Which isn't to say that the primary 'quest' isn't resolved satisfactorily either, because it is, but not quite in the way you imagine at the outset. It's a thoughtful and thought provoking film about history and how it defines us, and the importance of family heritage. The story has some moving moments and many very funny ones, and wonderful characters brought to life by some superb performances from the three leads.
'Everything is Illuminated' is one of those terrific little films that has heart and manages to feel real and honest despite being ostensibly surreal and artificial. Event though it's quirky it ought to appeal to everyone and is worth a watch.