What a fantastic film. All around - the casting and acting were superb, and visually it was incredible to watch.
As much fun as it was to see Elijah Wood play such an uncomfortable character and to laugh at the goofy, adidas-wearing Alex, the most incredible character, in my opinion, was Grandpa Alex Baruch. At first, he was so inherently unlikable. The only character less likable was the generation between Alex and Baruch - he was just a bitchy Tolstoy look-alike. Grandfather was, to me, just a crusty miserable old man at first. I have seen such characters before - my own paternal grandfather was very much as ornery and unpleasant. I think the actor who plays the grandfather does an amazing job of slowly gaining the audience's curiosity, then warmth, and then ends his role so beautifully in his death "repose."
Of course, everyone in this film deals with some kind of pain in their past, or discovers pain on this "most rigid search." Even the dog was deranged. Although - if I lived with Alex's family, I might exhibit deranged behavior as well. Seriously, though - the writer and main character, Jonathan, obviously has a lot on his mind. His intense neatness and strange collection habits definitely suggest a tightly-wound young man. His relationship with his grandfather, though it was close when he was a child, was very stressful for a young man who had little idea of his progenitor's history. Jonathan's fanny-pack of plastic baggies was at once very cool and unbearably sad. This young man was so afraid of forgetting his past - even his present - that he bagged countless strange artifacts that sometimes only very vaguely had anything to do with his family. Fear is definitely pain - a kind of pre-pain pain. It can be paralyzing.
On another level, the lone woman from Trachimbrod was sadness incarnate. She was surrounded by the most beautiful tomb on earth - surrounded by the bones of her life, and countless sunflowers. However, she wasn't the character who made me cry.
Grandfather Alex Baruch stood out to me the most because of his guarded emotional delivery of pain. His pain was not overt, nor was it immediately understandable. I think I was not alone in assuming that Grandfather Alex was one of the soldiers who did the murdering at Trachimbord. When it became abundantly clear that he had been a victim, I became even more involved in his character. Did his pain derive from the fact that he had this awful, traumatic thing happen to him? Or was his pain worse for having neglected his heritage - and his people - for so many years? The depth of pain was so aptly portrayed, and that last shot of him in the tub - was transcendental.