From the ridiculous to the sublime…Plastic City finally (FINALLY!) ended and I raced up the aisle in the dark to line up outside the Isabel Bader theatre again for one of my absolute cannot-miss screenings of the festival, Paul Schrader’s Adam Resurrected. Okay, truth be told, I had no real idea what the movie was about going in; I knew there was a holocaust theme, and both Jeff Goldblum and Willem Defoe were in it, but beyond that I was in the dark. I was there for the man himself: Paul Schrader, the main reason I went to the AFI; the man from whose frontal lobe sprung Travis Bickle and Julian Kay and John Letour; the man who got career-best performances out of Richard Pryor, Michael J. Fox, Dana Delaney; one of the icons of the seventies golden age of American cinema. So he really could have brought Bio-Dome 2: Still Domin’ to town and I would have shown up with bells on. Indulge me, I have so few heroes left.
So anyway, the movie’s an adaptation of a novel which I haven’t read but which I learned in the Q&A is a major part of the cultural lexicon in Israel, and while it seems strange at first for Schrader to be taking on such a subject, considering his religious background both biographical and filmographical (raised strict Dutch Calvinist and made his name writing for the most Catholic of all American directors) but then again he did write the definitive movie on the most famous Jew in history, so maybe it’s not a stretch. Adam Resurrected, as a film, is at times even more powerful that Schindler’s List as it tackles some of the same horrors, though the events in this film are entirely fictional. In his B&W flashbacks to the camps, Schrader focuses not so much on the visceral evil of the Nazis but on the violations of the soul and dignity that they perpetrated. It’s a subtle distinction, but essential for Goldblum’s arc. Since we’re on the subject of career-best performances…yeah. This is his. It’s still Goldblum, he does that rapid-talking thing and that move where he’s unloading sly witticisms while his eyes are already moving on across the room and he’s no longer paying attention to his listener, and throws in a Yiddish accent on top. During the Q&A, he was asked about preparation for the role and he brought the house down; apparently that babble that’s become his onscreen trademark is basically how he talks in real life.
In fact, the Q&A seemed oddly jovial for such a serious film, though truth be told the film itself has more moments of levity than one might expect. Partly it’s a “laugh that we not cry” thing, but Schrader explained right off the bat that one thing that attracted him to the script was that it violated two key rules about holocaust movies, namely the story is entirely fictional, and it’s irreverent. I’ve seen the man come off as incredibly dour in interviews (in the Taxi Driver documentary he’s positively mopey) but he was a cheery delight tonight. And (swoon) I raced out behind the theatre and caught the delegation as they were piling into the limo, and he signed my Light Sleeper poster (“Oh, I like this one!” he commented cheerfully as he scrawled his name and I promptly dropped the poster on the ground twice). Sweet. (***1/2)