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Jakob the Liar (1999)

Robin Williams , Mathieu Kassovitz , Peter Kassovitz  |  PG-13 |  DVD
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Robin Williams, Mathieu Kassovitz, Mark Margolis, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Nina Siemaszko
  • Directors: Peter Kassovitz
  • Format: Color, Dolby, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment - Mill Creek
  • DVD Release Date: March 21, 2000
  • Run Time: 120 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00003CWS3
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,325 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Jakob the Liar" on IMDb

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, poor Jewish cafe owner Jakob Heym (Oscar(r)-winner RobinWilliams Best Supporting Actor, 1997, Good Will Hunting) accidentally overhears a forbidden radio news bulletin signaling Soviet military success against German forces. To combat the overwhelming depression and suicide that pervades the ghetto, Jakob invents fictitious news bulletins about Allied advances against the Nazis. These lies keep hope and humor alive among the ghetto inhabitants, spirits are lifted, hearts are refreshed, and optimism is reborn. The Germans learn of the mythical radio and begin a search for the resistance hero who dares operate it.


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

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Format:VHS Tape
The week before seeing this film, my wife and I travelled to Krakow, Poland to see Auschwitz. We then visited Prague. I have to tell you, if your frame of reference is boomer generation American living in Europe and having visited the real thing -- rather than other movies -- the film is a revelation.
We stumbled across this rental in a UK Blockbuster, rented it, and were stunned by it. It felt closer in atmosphere and nuance to where we'd just been than anything we've ever seen. It is a "small" movie: no grand gestures, no sweeping vistas or bright colors. No "pops" in the story line, no grand themes caricatured. This is not to say that we don't have our own copies of Schindler's List and Life is Beautiful, nor that these films suffer from these defects!
But...if you haven't been to this part of the world, the one film of these three that would be most consistent with what you felt and intuited would probably be this one.
I'm sorry the critics didn't like it. It is something out of the ordinary, and appears to have been a labor of love.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to define April 15, 2000
This movie almost defies description. First, it is not a big movie, nor does it fit in the normal WWII genre. It doesn't contain the brutality of Schindler's List, but it deals with the same general subject. It is a somewhat dark movie but with amusing moments. It is certainly not your normal Robin William's vehicle, but he certainly plays the part of Jakob with fervor.
Ultimately, the movie ends like all movies of this type do, but it's hard to feel all bad about its outcome. This is a very good movie, but one that leaves a curiously empty feeling when all is said and done. One fact stands out above all: this movie deserves better than it got at the box office.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Understand Where This Is Coming From July 3, 2000
Format:VHS Tape
Don't watch this expecting Life Is Beautiful or Schindlers List - Don't watch it expecting to compare it to other Robin Williams Films. Granted, it's not as realistic and the original German version but understand where the film is coming from. Read Jurek Beckers novel for more insight. I'm assuming this films takes from the novel (which is set in the Lodz ghetto in Poland) - it's not a lavish detailed holocaust film but the message of hope that is gained from this is great. Watch the original German production and read the book - then watch this version with an open mind.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars SHOULD A LIE BRING HOPE? January 10, 2001
Format:VHS Tape
Jacob has a secret. Trapped in a Jewish ghetto in Poland, he has a radio giving news of a pending Russian attack on the Nazis not far from the ghetto. Ah, his secret leaks out. Now everyone knows about the radio and are demanding a day by day account from Jacob, the pancake maker.
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.
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