Hollywood actor Jeff Goldblum is not noted for his deep, insightful interpretations of a role. If anything, Goldblum usually plays Goldblum: a very tall, not unhandsome character actor with a whimsical smile and a predilection to get the girl.
In Adam Resurrected, however, Goldblum is a revelation. As the pre-war cabaret entertainer Adam Stein, the most famous clown in Germany, Goldblum startles and delights; and as the charismatic hero of an Israeli desert institution for mentally damaged Holocaust survivors, one simply cannot take one’s eyes off him.
Stein’s downfall, as director Paul Schrader shows in black and white flashbacks, lies in humiliation. His cabaret act depends on it, humiliating volunteers from the audience as he makes easy jokes about them. But one fateful night he chooses the wrong target: a man called Klein (Stein/Klein, an easy mistake to make), who saves up his humiliation by wreaking it on Stein when the Jews are taken to the concentration camp of which he is the commander.
This is the bargain, says Klein: a life for a life. Adam Stein must behave like a dog, sharing a kennel with Rex the Alsatian, in order to keep Commander Klein entertained. And he does, to the point where he must believe himself to be a dog so that he can survive. Yoram Kaniuk’s 1968 novel pulled no punches as to what survivors would do to survive, and Schrader’s film is equally powerful: it is no accident that the closing credits include one for Jeff Goldblum’s dog trainer.
Adam’s resurrection arrives with the chance to do something for someone besides himself. Into the desert institution comes a boy who believes he is a dog. He is naked, chained, he barks, snarls, and bites. Adam, who has lost his wife, his family and his sanity, begins to rescue the boy. The redemptive part of the film is somewhat more predictable but nonetheless, to use a favourite UKJFF word, challenging.
A host of Germany’s finest actors and a sprinkling of good Israeli ones, including the beautiful Ayelet Zurer, decorate this film, plus a twinkling, if not very believable, cameo from Sir Derek Jacobi as the head of the survivor institution. But go and see it just for Goldblum. He is extraordinary.