The Memory Thief

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Writer-director Gil Kofman delivers a provocative and unsettling feature debut with this dark tale about a young man whose obsession with the Holocaust eventually leads to insanity. While a little overly derivative of "Taxi Driver," especially in its final reels, "The Memory Thief" provides an unsettling fresh take on a subject that threatens to become numbing with familiarity.

Mark Webber ("The Hottest State") gives a standout performance in the central role of Lukas, a California tollbooth attendant. His only human contact being his fleeting encounters with anonymous drivers and his brief visits to his hospitalized comatose mother, Lukas drifts through life until a chance encounter with a Holocaust survivor who berates him for reading "Mein Kampf."

Deeply intrigued, Lukas soon finds part-time work at a foundation devoted to videotaping the testimonies of Holocaust victims, and begins a tentative relationship with the daughter (Rachel Miner) of one of them (Jerry Adler). But his interest soon becomes consuming and disturbing: Shaving his head and having a concentration camp identification number tattooed on his arm, he assumes the role of a latter-day survivor.

The Seventh Art Releasing film depicts the psychic descent of its titular character (fearlessly inhabited by Webber) in compelling fashion for much of its running time, with Kofman's screenplay also intriguingly exploring such issues as Hollywood's exploitation of the subject and the fine line between empathy and filling an emotional void. But the filmmaker ultimately is not quite able to navigate the complexities of his themes, and the sensationalistic conclusion fails to convince.
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