The trick with movie adaptations is that they must stand on their own, without relying on a viewer's familiarity with the source material. In fact, a filmmaker's sensitivity with film form can be gauged by how well he or she molds non-cinematic elements into their cinematic counterparts while retaining the essence of the source -- its meaning and effect. For his debut as writer-director, Liev Schreiber tries to get his arms around a difficult novel -- Jonathan Safran Foer's own debut, the remarkable Everything Is Illuminated. Considering the actor-turned-director's inexperience behind the camera, Schreiber might've been better off choosing a less complicated book-to-film project.

Foer's novel pitches the reader between the past and the present, between a magical-realist historical chronicle and the first-person reflections of a Ukrainian translator who makes hilarious mincemeat of the English language. Foer's story follows the journey undertaken by an obsessive personal historian -- named Jonathan Safran Foer -- from New York to the remote Ukrainian village from which his grandfather escaped under the shadow of the Nazis. Accompanying him are the malapropism-prone Alex and Alex's irascible and eccentric grandfather who has ghosts of his own to bury. For all its stylistic bric-a-brac, the ideas of reconciling with the past and of survivors struggling to exorcise themselves of guilt resonate eloquently throughout the novel.

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