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Undiscovering family mysteries in ‘Illuminated’

Road trip movies are all over the map, some highly interesting, others surprising and a few just plain silly. “Everything Is Illuminated,” about a young man’s journey to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazi invasion, fits all three of these descriptions.

Writer and actor Liev Schreiber (“The Manchurian Candidate”), makes his directorial debut with the film.

Elijah Wood stars as Jonathan, a young Jewish collector living in New York who accumulates items from his family’s past and present in baggies and nails them to the wall.

After his grandmother’s passing, Jonathan realizes he must go to the Ukraine and find Augustine, a mysterious woman in a photograph with his father, who he’s been told saved his grandfather the night the Nazis annihilated the entire population of a small Ukrainian town.

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Jonathan discovers a company in the Ukraine that helps rich Jewish tourists explore their past. He’s quite surprised when he’s met at the airport by Alex (Eugene Hutz), a quirky, tall, young man with a lopsided grin, and his supposedly blind grandfather (Boris Leskin). Jonathan is even more startled when the grandfather gets behind the wheel to drive.

Considering Elijah Wood’s success in “Lord of the Rings,” it might be hard to imagine him in a small, independent film. He blends in perfectly as the odd loner with the wide spectacles and the big eyes and, ultimately, this story is not about his character.

Wood said he was looking for a project totally different than “Rings.”

“It’s very difficult to find something that is unique and has its own vision and something that instills passion,” he said. “This was definitely one of those scripts. It was imaginative, lyrical, beautiful and naturally funny.”

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Influenced by “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” which cast Ukranians who had never acted before, Schreiber made a point not to cast an American in the role of Alex.

Searching for the elusive town of Trachimbord is harder than the men expect. In town after town, no one seems to have heard of it. Just when they are about to give up, they find their way. They arrive at a lone house in the middle of an enormous field of tall sunflowers, and an orchestra of white sheets billows in the wind.

Augustine, the inhabitant of the house, has tended her own collection of secrets and waited all these years for someone to come reap the rewards of her efforts. As Jonathan begins to undercover his family’s mystery, the grandfather makes a discovery of his own, and it’s one in which “Everything Is Illuminated.”

“Everything Is Illuminated” is playing at La Jolla Village Cinemas.