Despite its generally unflinching portrayal of the indignities of survival at any cost, Paul Schrader’s for-hire job Adam Resurrected fails to upend Holocaust movie tropes with the determination of recent works like Claude Miller’s A Secret or Amos Gitai’s One Day You’ll Understand. Indeed, its titular tip-off of tacked-on redemption speaks volumes.
The fault lies less with the casting of hypermannered ham Jeff Goldblum in the title role (he’s actually quite raw and moving) than in Schrader’s unfocused approach to the story’s claustrophobic convolutions. It concerns Adam Stein, a faded German cabaret star confined to a psychiatric hospital in the middle of the Israeli desert in the early ’60s. A guilt-racked concentration camp survivor like his fellow patients, Adam simultaneously charms and exasperates the staff, including a doctor (Jacobi) and a randy nurse (Zurer), and achieves a kind of breakthrough by bonding with a feral child (Rapiteanu) newly admitted to the facility.
It’s easy to see why the themes of moral failure and personal anguish in Yoram Kaniuk’s source novel attracted Schrader even as other directors declined. But the director’s absent conviction fails to make the film’s absurdities tragic, and instead comes close to rendering its tragedies absurd.