January 29, 2009 -- Jeff Goldblum is a revelation in this quirky drama set in an Israeli mental asylum in the 1950s. Numerous flashbacks to Adam Stein's (Goldblum) horrifying experiences before, during and after the Holocaust give ample reasons for Stein's insanity. While the Holocaust was horrible enough to make most survivors crazy, what Stein experiences in a Nazi death camp is especially horrible. In essence, Stein is subjected to a peculiar form of psychological torture designed personally for him by a crazed person with a grudge against him. The mental asylum is also very atypical, especially for this period of history. Rather than the usual horror treatments (as in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”) the treatment here is highly experimental. In essence, the inmates run this asylum, and the doctors get out of the way, cleverly using the skills of their patients to improve the mental health of the patients, who are all Holocaust survivors like Stein.
A vaudeville-type entertainer, Stein is forced to act like a dog and jester for the commandant of a Nazi death camp (played by Willem Dafoe) in order to survive, while most of his family is murdered. Stein and the commandant actually have a history that predates the war and involves an incident during one of Stein's vaudeville acts. At the end of the war the crazy death camp commandant gives Stein a valuable estate in Germany, saying he has “been a good dog.” As one of the few Jews in Germany, Stein's newfound wealth makes him a pariah to the other Jews, even to his own daughter, who survived the war. Stein finds himself in a unique Israeli asylum with other Holocaust survivors. Dr. Nathan Gross (Derek Jacobi) who runs the place allows the inmates to interact in such a way that they help themselves. In this way Stein begins his own rehabilitation by helping a young boy (played by Tudor Rapiteanu), who thinks he is a dog, become a human being again.
Stein is a genius and he has the gift of empathy. He has an uncanny ability to “read” people. He is able to easily charm and seduce people, including a lovely nurse, Gina Grey (Ayelet Zurer) who is every male patient's dream. Goldblum gives a powerful performance in this film. His is one of the best performances by any actor in any film released in 2008. Gone are the usual telltale quirks and mannerisms that often mark a Goldblum performance. In this film, he transforms himself into something different than he has before. This is a decidedly offbeat and quirky look at the Holocaust, and, despite it's grim nature, is not as depressing as most films on this subject. This film rates a B.
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