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House of Fools

MOVIE REVIEW
Adam Resurrected (2008)

D08_0053
Bleiberg Entertainment

In the long litany of Holocaust movies, there’s never been one remotely like “Adam Resurrected.” A surrealist black comedy set in an asylum for Holocaust survivors located in the middle of Israel’s Negev Desert, the movie forgoes austere formalism for a loose-limbed madcap romp through damaged psychological terrain. Paul Schrader’s film – based on the controversial Yoram Kaniuk novel – unfolds as discordantly as one might expect.

The zany style and showboating performances never convincingly evoke the pain inherent in the characters’ shared experience. The asylum, a paragon of bland modernist décor, more closely evokes an art museum than a home for people struggling with these particular past horrors. The exorbitant setting and the narrative’s slapdash, barely coordinated chaos never coherently connect to the black-and-white flashbacks to protagonist Adam Stein’s (Jeff Goldblum) sadomasochistic experiences with a concentration camp commandant (Willem Dafoe).

Mr. Schrader directs the movie like the ringmaster at a circus. The main character, a clown before the Holocaust, effectively serves as the director’s doppelganger, dashing through the halls of the asylum, ranting, raving and whipping his fellow patients into a constant frenzy. Mr. Goldblum plays Adam as a fast-talking wingnut. He comes across less as a convincing human being than an exaggerated, buffoonish archetype, a cross between “Cabaret’s” Master of Ceremonies and what one imagines Jerry Lewis’s Helmut Doork to have been like in the infamous “The Day the Clown Cried.” Any sympathy drummed up for him derives from the audience’s inherent understanding of his tragic existence, not from anything shown onscreen.

The screenplay by Noah Stollman is awash in hyperbolic scenarios and uncomfortable metaphors: a young boy at the asylum behaves like a dog and the commandant appears from a burning bush à la Moses to taunt Adam. The pervading artifice stultifies the material, trivializing Adam’s story and those of his fellow patients. “Adam Resurrected” opens the same week as “The Reader,” a movie about collective guilt and memory in the wake of the Holocaust that says more of meaning and impact in one scene than does the whole of Mr. Schrader’s failed experiment.

ADAM RESURRECTED

Opens on Dec. 12 in Manhattan.

Directed by Paul Schrader; written by Noah Stollman, based on the novel by Yoram Kaniuk; director of photography, Sebastian Edschmid; edited by Sandy Saffeels; music by Gabriel Yared; production designer, Alexander Manasse; produced by Ehud Bleiberg and Werner Wirsing; released by Bleiberg Entertainment. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Jeff Goldblum (Adam Stein), Willem Dafoe (Commandant Klein) and Derek Jacobi (Dr. Nathan Gross).

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