The novel ADAM RESURRECTED by Yoran Kaniuk, initially published in Israel in 1968 (its actual title literally translates to MAN, SON OF A DOG), was poorly received and widely misunderstood, but (surprise!) has since been reappraised as a contemporary masterpiece.
It seems this 2008 film adaptation, starring Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe and Israeli superstar Ayelet Zurer, is set to undergo a fate similar to that of the book, as thus far it’s been largely maligned, if not ignored outright. ADAM RESURRECTED received scant attention on the festival circuit and even less during its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it December ‘08 theatrical bow. The DVD didn’t even turn up until nearly a full year later; now that it’s finally here, let’s hope more people see the film, as it’s one of the finest by director Paul Schrader.
Schrader is best known for his longtime association with Martin Scorsese, for whom Schrader scripted TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and BRINGING OUT THE DEAD. He’s also directed many terrific films (BLUE COLLAR, MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS, AUTO-FOCUS), along with just as many not-so-terrific ones (AMERICAN GIGOLO, FOREVER MINE, the EXORCIST prequel DOMINION) and some that are just misunderstood (CAT PEOPLE, PATTY HEARST). All are characterized by a nervy audacity and at times disturbing peek into dark and troubling depths—just like ADAM RESURRECTED.
1961: Adam, a wealthy Jew with a decidedly horrific past, has himself shipped off to an Israeli asylum for Holocaust survivors, a creepy environ with stark grey walls. Once interned, Adam causes a ruckus by refusing treatment, making himself bleed (one of his many “talents”) and seducing the attractive head nurse. But one day he sniffs out a “dog”—actually David, a young boy who resides in a secluded wing of the asylum.
David thinks he’s a dog, which forces Adam to confront his own past, when he was forced to live as a canine. During the Holocaust Adam was spared the gas chambers by a Nazi commandant, who remembered Adam from his days as a nightclub entertainer and made him his pet. Flashbacks fill us in on how Adam, on those occasions when he wasn’t being a dog for the commandant, was used to entertain Jews as they were led to their deaths in a concentration camp—including his own wife and children!
Back in the asylum Adam makes it his mission to cure David the dog-boy of his delusions. This causes the head nurse (who extends the dog motif by behaving like a canine herself during sex with Adam) to grow jealous. Adam, however, won’t be deterred in his quest, which comes to encompass his own fractured psyche as well as that of David.
From this film’s very first moments it’s clear that Paul Schrader was aiming to create something far removed from the standard Holocaust movie. ADAM RESURRECTED has a tone and rhythm closer to surreal comedy than the drudgery of SCHINDLER’S LIST or THE PIANIST. I guess to many viewers such an unorthodox treatment of the Holocaust will seem downright sacrilegious, but I say it works, especially in contrast with the film’s darker, more esoteric elements.
I’m referring to the sequences where Adam and his young charge act like dogs, which are appropriately creepy and disturbing. There’s no way to tone down or sugar-coat such scenes, and Schrader deserves credit for the fearlessness with which he presents them. So does his lead actor Jeff Goldblum, who’s never been better onscreen.
In addition to the above, there are stretches of straightforward (if eccentric) drama and moments of pure fantasy, such as Adam’s final hallucinatory meeting with his Nazi captor (Willem Dafoe, essaying the film’s most thankless role). The net result is a fascinating and troubling oddity whose misguided DVD packaging doesn’t come close to conveying its richness and eccentricity. If nothing else, ADAM RESURRECTED is likely the next best thing to THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED.
Bleiberg Entertainment/3L Filmproduktion
Director: Paul Schrader
Producers: Ehud Bleiberg, Werner Wirsing
Screenplay: Noah Stollman
(Based on a Novel by Yoram Kaniuk)
Cinematography: Sebastian Edschmid
Editing: Sandy Saffeels
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Aylet Zurer, Moritz Bleibtreu, Hana Laszlo, Joachim Krol, Jenya Dodina, Tudor Rapiteanu, Veronica Ferres, Idan Alterman