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Jakob the Liar
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Jakob The Liar
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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Top Customer Reviews
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?
Additionally, it is essential if you consider yourself a devotee of film, to listen to the director's commentary. His observations on the making of the movie, particularly, concerning the differences between European and American film making are absolutely brilliant. His comment that complexity and subtlety are "good" comments in Europe, but box office poison in the States are absolutely sad, but true. Through the commentary you also learn that director, Peter Kassovitz, was hidden by a Hungarian family in order to save him from the Holocaust, which brought a bittersweet authenticity to the entire film.
Jakob's wife is killed and his neighborhood is turned into a ghetto. So that's where the movie picks up at. Jakob is looking at a tree where he first kissed his late wife at the ghetto wall.
The curfew that the jews can't be out of their homes is 8:00 P.M. So Jakob (Robin Williams) is found outside close to 8 P.M. He gets told to go see the officer on duty and get his punshiment. Before the war Jakob ran a cafe. He made food like Potato Pancakes.
Jakob has a deal with Kowalsky. He gets a free shave every morning. And Kowalsky gets to eat as many Potatos Pancakes as he wants. But the problem is that Jakob hasn't made pancakes in in three years because the germans don't allow any potatos in the ghetto.
Jakob hears a story and tells a bigmouth former boxer (Liev Schreiber). The rumor spread that Jakob has a radio. Jakob aslo finds himself caring for a 10 and half years old girl named Lina (Hannah Taylor Gordon).
You would think all would be well in knowing liberation is just around the corner except it is not true. There never was a radio. Jacob's telling of another story gets misunderstood to the point where people believe he has a radio. As the rumor spreads Jacob knows his life is in danger for his Nazis captors will kill him. Jacob wants to survive. His people want news. He lies.
Robin Williams portrays a character caught in a rough situation. What do you do when a lie brings hope? At the same time it has brought death. How much should you say when your every word could endanger your entire community? We see Jacob facing this delicate balance of a moral dilemma in which no clear answers appear. What do you do in such a situation? Feed people with false hope or stay the course of survival? Such is the heart of this film which shows us what can happen in an absurd crisis which becomes a danger to all. A bit of humor and life comes through with Williams as he shows that those in the ghetto still lived life inspite of the Nazis. Will they be able to survive through Jacob's lies? You find the answer.
Most recent customer reviews
I think the movie serves as a reminder to all of us what happened during WWII. This may be a fictional accounting, however, that isn't the point here, is it? Read morePublished 9 months ago by Pamela Blezard
This movie should be placed among the timeless World War Two classics such as Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful. Read morePublished on April 3 2003 by Linda Benske
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 morePublished on March 31 2003 by Joseph
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. Read morePublished on Sept. 19 2002 by Michelle Pettit
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 morePublished on April 17 2002 by Edward Rossen
Comparisons between "Life is Beautiful" and "Jakob the Liar" are inevitable. That is because they are the same, almost. Read morePublished on April 15 2002 by M. R. Summerfield
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 morePublished on Sept. 13 2001 by John R. Bridell
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 morePublished on April 5 2001