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Jakob the Liar

Robin Williams , Hannah Taylor Gordon , Peter Kassovitz    DVD
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful aside, milking the Holocaust for laughs is a dangerous game. Even the blackest, most therapeutic humor turns queasy in the shadow of such monstrous evil; it's like dancing on a mass grave. So Jakob the Liar's got a hard road to hoe--its eponymous schlemiel plays out his semi-farcical adventures in the mean streets of the Warsaw Ghetto circa 1944. The skies are always leaden over Jakob's hometown, reflecting the comic climate that pervades this mostly unfortunate adaptation of Jurek Becker's autobiographical book (first filmed in 1975).

Jakob Heym (Robin Williams in overbearingly earnest mode) gets tangled in a string of self-perpetuating lies about a hidden radio, supposedly broadcasting news that the victorious Red Army is nearing. His desperate attempts to convince a clutch of insistently idiosyncratic friends (clichés to a man: Liev Schreiber, Bob Balaban, Michael Jeter, Alan Arkin) and obligatory Nazi bad guys that the radio doesn't exist are complicated by the fact that he's stashed a fugitive kid (a dead ringer--sorry!--for Anne Frank) in his attic--and by abundant evidence that lies are the best medicine for the ghetto's skyrocketing suicide rate. Copious unfunny misunderstandings and pratfalls eventuate in this Holocaust rendition of Fiddler on the Roof (you expect Williams to break into song: "If I were a funny man...."). Ultimately, Jakob the Liar loses its way for good in some very ugly violence and a rather nasty final twist: the film's ending might just be rubbing our noses in another feel-good lie. --Kathleen Murphy

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Jakob The Liar

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
By K. Gordon TOP 50 REVIEWER
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)
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I have not read the book but I greatly enjoyed the movie. Good narrative, excellent cinematography, and some stunning background music. While the film may be held guilty for some cardboard characters (e.g., all Germans are mean looking men), Robin Williams was surely under-appreciated in his very concvincing cameo as Jakob, a pancake vendor, who pretends to have a radio and distribute good news to other Jews in the ghetto -- and I don't mean just the accent. The guy is brilliant.
The theme is a cross between "Goodmorning Vietnam" meets "Life is beautiful" -- classic cultural interpretations of the forced lifestyle of the characters promote the effect of a rumour that a working radio exists in the barbed-wire ghetto, allowing a lowly pancake-vendor to raise to heroic proportions amidst his small group of associates and lie in the face of hope-dashing truth.
At its heart, the story is about the irrefutable spirit of human life despite seemingly unsurmountable odds as Jakob deals with the consequences of either perpetuating his lie or coming out with the whole truth, weighing hope against despair. Swept up in his own joking accident and a few well-timed coincidences, endorsed by the ghetto residents, the ghetto organizes to resist their Nazi oppressors.
As the fall of the Third Reich becomes more and more likely, the tangle of truth and falsity tightens around Jakob and each lie becomes more and more needed.
An interesting angle to look at the Holocaust, it serves as one of the better movies to introduce younger audiences to that odious period of human history. Oh, and did I mention that the background score is marvellous?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Movie! April 3 2003
This movie should be placed among the timeless World War Two classics such as Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful. It is truly one of Williams best performances since Goodwill Hunting. It acurately portrays the life of people during the Jewish Holocaust. Iwas touched deeply by this movie and moved by the great performance of Williams and the rest of the cast. Peter Kassovitz establishes himself as a great director with this movie. The book was great and the movie was even better!
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5.0 out of 5 stars humor and hope in the face of cruelty Sept. 19 2002
There are reviewers who had trouble with the humor in Jakob the Liar. I think the point is that human beings cannot survive without it. The most horrible conditions can only be survived by resilent people who find a way to hold on and relate. The humor showed the character of the people who needed to find a way to survive day-by-day. I found the movie to be well worth watching.
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2.0 out of 5 stars In reply to Mr. Rossen's review... July 29 2002
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
... There is a reason this movie is getting bad reviews - because it is bad, not because of anti-semitism. Would I accuse you of hating Catholics if you gave a bad review to "Jesus of Nazereth?" Your thoughts are way off base. Second of all, does the fact that you have an extended family that lived through the holocaust give you some sort of vision into this movie that none of us could have recognized? Were you in a Nazi concentration camp? I hate to tell you but it is not a good movie whether your relatives lived through it or not. Don't get me wrong, I think what Hitler did was wrong, and I feel for every Jew, gypsie, and anyone else who had to live through it, but give me a break. I had extended family fight in World War II, does that mean I have some insight into "Saving Private Ryan" that others don't??? The fact is, don't blame the bad reviews on anti-semitism. For the rest of you, check out "Schindler's List" for a movie that is true to life about the holocaust (as you probably already know). As for you Mr. Rossen, try to grow up a little.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Revisionist garbage
Unfortunately, in the satirical "Jakob the Liar," we are yet again engulfed with negative portrayals of the Nazi regime - they are all, without exception, demonized as monsters -... Read more
Published on March 31 2003 by Joseph
4.0 out of 5 stars Must see for students and fans of film
I think that most people reviewing this film completely missed the point. Yes this is a story of the Holocaust with some humorous elements, but the story doesn't flinch at the... Read more
Published on June 4 2002 by Shannona Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Jakob the Liar
As a Jew, and whose extended family was in the Holocaust, this kind of movie is special to a Jew. As for the bad reviews it has received, I just see anti-semitisim hidden in... Read more
Published on April 17 2002 by Edward Rossen
1.0 out of 5 stars Do yourself a favour...
Comparisons between "Life is Beautiful" and "Jakob the Liar" are inevitable. That is because they are the same, almost. Read more
Published on April 15 2002 by M. R. Summerfield
5.0 out of 5 stars When mass hysteria counts for something
JAKOB THE LIAR lets you know when mass hysteria counts for something. See this movie, but not for historical content. See it to feel the power of hope. Read more
Published on Sept. 13 2001 by John R. Bridell
5.0 out of 5 stars Jacob the Liar
Such a powerful film. Great direction by Frank Beyer and great acting by Vlastimil. A real gem from East Germany.
Published on June 7 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars No real heroes, but real spirit
If you want to see a holocaust movie, then I suspect there are better films to view. But this movie is real in its presentation of the human spirit: sometimes up, sometimes down,... Read more
Published on April 5 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Robin Williams is stuck in a ghetto in Jakob the Liar.
Jakob the Liar takes place during World War II. This is during the time of Adolf Hitler. He had a great hatred for jews. Jakob is a jew. Read more
Published on March 28 2001 by Stephen Verhaeren
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