Film review: Adam Resurrected

Adam Resurrected
2008
3L Filmproduktion, Adam Productions, Bleiberg Entertainment

STARRING Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Ayelet Zurer, Hana Laszlo, Joachim Król, Jenya Dodina, Tudor Rapiteanu, Julian Sharp, Moritz Bleibtreu, Gabriel Spahiu
WRITTEN BY Noah Stollman (screenplay) adapted from the novel by Yoram Kaniuk
PRODUCED BY Ehud Bleiberg, Werner Wirsing
DIRECTED BY Paul Schrader

SHOT BY Sebastian Edschmid
EDITED BY Sandy Saffeels
MUSIC BY Gabriel Yared
DISTRIBUTED BY 3L Filmverleih

Screened 2008-12-04

“Trembling before d-g”

1961. In a cosmopolitan mental institution in the Israeli desert, the brilliant and unstable Adam Stein (Goldblum) receives a hearty homecoming from his fellow Holocaust survivors. Stein immediately resumes his asylum routine, which consists of banging his head nurse (when she isn’t too busy barking like a dog for him), using his inexplicable and irrelevant telekinesis to casually outsmart his chum, the institution’s administrator (Jacobi), sharing glib and predictable banter with other mental cases, and spontaneously experiencing “profuse bleeding fits” feasibly caused by slips in Stein’s superhuman control of his own body – which, trust me, sounds more interesting than it is. A series of forced flashbacks over the course of the film juxtaposes Stein’s pre-war career – impresario, magician & all-around Vaudevillian performer – with his wartime career – an endless one-dog-show under the supervision of a trademark Nazi kook, Commandant Klein (Dafoe) – and his post-war “career” of degenerating into a crippled alcoholic Survivor, poor fictional fellow. And back at the institution, Stein’s redemptive journey finds its true shape when a young boy shows up who woof-woofs and crawls around on all fours just like Stein did in his heyday. To no great surprise they form an unlikely friendship – unlikely because it, like most else in the film, is forced – and save each other’s souls.

‘Creative paralysis’ occurs when an artist has belabored a project for so long that the original purpose is muddled and likely forgotten, and it occurs all the time. The apparently schlocky German producer Ehud Bleiburg read Yoram Kaniuk’s Adam novel 20 years ago and has wanted to make a film of it ever since… and he should’ve (what struck a man at 20 is considerably different than what strikes him at 40). Eventually Bleiburg found a for-hire director in Paul Schrader. Adam marks Schrader’s 30th year directing films and all I can think is that he should know better than to make a film like this; Adam isn’t a disaster but is so inconsequential that it practically feels like one. Schrader really seems to not have a clear idea of what to do with the script he’s got as he tells the story in a conventional, dated manner. The cinematography is of mostly that typical handheld ‘whatever’ milieu and there is very little aesthetic crafting. Goldblum does well but even as a brilliant and lighthearted performer he cannot elevate the film’s somber, dreary tone. Dafoe? Oh, who doesn’t get Dafoe, and who doesn’t get a nice little Dafoe performance? In retrospect, I must say that there was not a moment in the film that excited me out of apathy. It’s a curious surprise that the product feels slapdashed and forgettable considering how long it was stewing in Bleiburg’s pot. Adam Resurrected was once, perhaps, an impressive and heartfelt story, but… there’s simply nothing left to talk about. It’s too late, why force anything? As a dynamic between the filmmakers and the audience, two doctors in the film touch on this position rather aptly… One doctor complains to the head doctor that Stein is undisciplined, unmedicated, has free reign of the institution… frustrated, he muses, “Maybe we should just let the patients cure each other, and we can sit around all day in our pajamas and play cards?” The only doctor warmly responds, “That’s the best thing you’ve said all day.”

written by David Ashley

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