home | art & architecture | books & cds | dance | destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
Adaptations of popular novels are bound to come as a letdown for
some people. Cult novels especially, with their
legions of rabid fans carrying signed first editions, turn to bitter battlegrounds
whenever the Hollywood recycling machine decides to take one on. Each excised scene and every erased minor character
is lovingly eulogized like unknown soldiers that only the books faithful were aware
of. Given the tossed-off quality and bottom
line sequel-mania of the major studios, Lord of the
Rings is as notable for its accuracy to the source material as it is for its
The curious thing about Everything is Illuminated, a new film from actor-turned-director Liev Schreiber, is that its severely hampered by a screenplay that waters down much of the books power, but the blow isnt lethal. The film is still a moving rumination on memory and history, carefully modulating the balance between fish-out-of-water comedy and Holocaust drama.
The book, by Jonathan Safran Foer, spins the tale of a Jewish young man, also named Jonathan Safran Foer, who journeys to
Its a noble effort, but Schreiber doesnt quite manage to do justice to the book, which he optioned before it was even published. It is simply too expansive, effortlessly weaving Foers correspondence with Alex with absurdist scenes of the last days of the village and even a secondary subplot concerning Alexs grandfathers own implication in the massacre of Jews in a separate village. This last bit is the most egregious misstep of Schreibers adaptation, but to explain it here would require a huge spoiler.
The director has a reputation for being an actors actor, and his projects always show a serious attention to his craft. Everything is Illuminated is a labor of love, and the film conveys an emotional power that is sorely missing in much prestige moviemaking. Schreibers own family emigrated from Eastern Europe and he takes pains to give the film a klezmer feel in the comic first hourits closest in spirit to the films of Emir Kusturica. The rolling fields of the
This is not to say that fans of the book wont be able to appreciate the film version. The tone of the adaptation is wistful andwhen its not boisterousquiet, and its climax is bracing. It lacks the books range, but still captures its spirit. That in itself is remarkable.
- Jesse Paddock