(2008) From Ruth Edelson's pension in Tel Aviv, Adam Stein (Jeff Goldblum) is taken, having choked the landlady (who apologizes for having called the authorities) the previous day, to be returned to the Rebecca Seizling Institute, a facility located in the desert for innovative therapies (founded by an American philanthropist) for survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. The other patients - a woman who records his every utterance as if he were the Messiah, another woman holding up the sky, a man demanding God's answer as to why - greet Adam with a wholehearted welcoming.
The concupiscent head nurse, Gina Grey (Ayelet Zurer), is desirable and desirous, sometimes pretending to be his beautiful bitch in heat. Dr Nathan Gross (Derek Jacobi), who runs the institute, asks his brilliant patient: "Why haven't we been able to help you?" No one seems to have been cured of the curse of his or her captivity.
From 1961 Adam's mind flashes back (in black-and-white scenes) to Berlin (1926, 1930, 1936 as a circus clown with incredible body control in cabarets with his wife and two daughters). When he hears a dog barking on the premises, Adam becomes agitated, discovers the cell, outside of which he gets on his hands and knees acting out canine behavior. In 1944 he and his family arrived via boxcar at Stellring where Commandant Klein (Willem Dafoe) remembers Adam (whose performance saved him from suicide) as the funniest man in Germany - "Do a trick. Make us laugh" - taking him into his personal quarters as a pet for entertainment and comfort.
Given a violin to play as other prisoners are sent to the crematorium, he watched his wife and younger daughter pass on. As a reward - "You've been a good dog" - Klein offered Adam a pistol (with which he could shoot himself or the commandant) or a deceased Nazi's property and bank account.
The dog in the cell is a child too young to have been in the camps, though the boy's appearance reminds Adam of those he'd known inside; he communes with David (Tudor Rapiteanu), "the king of dogs," taking him out on a leash. Seeing Gina's jealousy of his attachment to David, Adam warns her: "You had better not interfere." In a lecture about laughter to his fellow patients, Adam speaks of "the necessary lie that we all need to survive," like an actor on a stage before an audience that must be entertained.
After a futile search using his Nazi marks for his older daughter Ruthie, a visitor, another survivor, provided him with her address - "You don't have to punish yourself"; he's about to become a grandfather. Traveling to Haifa, Israel, in the early 1950s (the flashback, to indicate the memory's recent vividness, has been colorized), Adam found Ruthie's home; but her husband, too ashamed to allow a Jew who took advantage of a Nazi mansion and money, refused him entrance.
One of several morally complex movies this year about the Shoah and the Nazis, director Paul Shrader's powerfully compelling post-Holocaust film is based on Yoram Kaniuk's novel, adapted by Noah Stollman.
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