Movies: Guy Walks into a Shtetl

Everything Is Illuminated carefully finds humor among the descendants of Holocaust survivors

Jonathan (Elijah Wood) is a collector with a limited range and a deep, if enigmatically motivated, passion. What he saves is family memorabilia--his grandma's false teeth, a dollar bill, even dirt from ground that is somehow hallowed in family memory. All this stuff he seals in plastic Baggies and pins to a wall in his room. One of his most prized possessions is a photograph of his grandfather with a Ukrainian woman who, according to family legend, saved his life during World War II. In Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan journeys to the Ukraine to discover her fate.

In its early--and best--passages, writer-...

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