Lukas (Mark Webber) is the worst tollbooth worker in all of California, chain-smoking and holding up traffic by rescuing stray dogs. One day, a passing driver inexplicably tosses a copy of Mein Kampf at him; so begins Lukas’s spiraling, Mark David Chapman–esque obsession with all things Holocaust. From volunteering to recording survivor testimonies to buying lottery tickets off Auschwitz numbers, Lukas’s is a quick, frenzied descent into insanity. With a committedly unpleasant but spastic performance from Webber, The Memory Thief is the least sentimental “Holocaust film” on record. Writer-director Gil Kofman moves past “we must never forget” into weird and thorny territory, in which sympathy for the tragic becomes a masochistic form of emotional self-gratification. (Lukas’s frequent refrain: “Didn’t you hear? Auschwitz isn’t just for the Jews anymore.”) The film is (perhaps deliberately) as unbalanced as its protagonist, one whose fury ultimately seems directed either nowhere in particular or in too many directions at once—until things eventually devolve into a Taxi Driver riff. Kofman’s lack of textbook sanctimony is to be congratulated, but he could have used something like Ryan Gosling’s centrifugal performance in the similarly uncomfortable The Believer to get somewhere coherent.
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