Amazon has accidentally lumped together the reviews of both the original film, and the US remake. This is a review of the original film.
Only a very few films have succeeded in treating the plight of the Jews under the Nazis with a sense of humor, but this is one of them. Sort of an earlier variation on 'Life is Beautiful', but this is far less saccharine, and the humor here is dry and sad, not slapstick and wacky.
In a Jewish ghetto in 1944, Jacob is brought to the police station for curfew violation. There he hears news on the radio that the Russians are advancing nearer. He uses this hopeful news to stop a fellow ghetto resident from committing sure suicide by trying to steal extra food. But in a moment of foolishness, Jacob claims he heard the news on his own secret radio. Soon the entire town is hounding him for positive news, and the shy quiet Jacob has become an unwanted celebrity and bringer of hope, forcing him into a moral quandary and more lies.
The power of this simple fable is enhanced by some very touching flashbacks where we see these now beaten down characters as their lives were just a few years before – full of love, laughter, food to eat, nice homes.
Vlastimil Brodsky is great as Jacob, even if he's unfortunately dubbed into German. He avoids the traps of sentimentality or self-pity. Right to the end this is an honest and moving tale of trying to retain one's humanity in the face of ever more overwhelming odds. The U.S. DVD could have a better image, but the print was apparently in bad shape from ill- storage in East Germany. (This was the only East German film ever nominated for an Oscar)