Jakob the Liar
|Jakob the Liar|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Kassovitz|
|Produced by||Steven Haft |
Marsha Garces Williams
|Written by||Jurek Becker (novel) |
Peter Kassovitz &
Didier Decoin (screenplay)
|Starring||Robin Williams |
|Music by||Edward Shearmur|
|Editing by||Claire Simpson|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Release date(s)||September 24, 1999|
|Running time||120 min.|
|Box office||$4,956,401 (domestic) |
Jakob the Liar is a 1999 American tragicomedy film directed by Peter Kassovitz and starring Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Liev Schreiber, Hannah Taylor-Gordon, and Bob Balaban. The movie is set in 1944 in a ghetto in German-occupied Poland during the Holocaust and is based on the book by Jurek Becker about World War II Jewish ghetto life. It is a remake of the East German DEFA film Jakob der Lügner from 1975.
In the Poland of early 1944, a Polish-Jewish shopkeeper named Jakob is summoned to the German headquarters after being falsely accused of being out after curfew. While waiting for the commander, Jakob overhears a German radio broadcast speaking about Soviet offensives. Returned to the ghetto, Jakob shares his information with a friend, sparking rumors that there is a secret radio within the ghetto. After hesitating, Jakob decides to use the chance to spread hope throughout the ghetto by continuing to tell the optimistic, fantastic tales that he allegedly heard from "his secret radio" and his lies keep hope and humor alive among the isolated ghetto inhabitants. He also has a real secret in that he is hiding a young Jewish girl who escaped from an extermination camp deportation train.
The Gestapo learn of the mythical radio, however, and begin a search for the resistance hero who dares operate it. Jakob surrenders himself to the Germans as they demand the person with the radio give himself up or risk hostages being killed. During interrogation, Jakob tells the police commander that he had only listened to the radio inside his office. He is ordered to announce publicly that this was all a lie, so the ghetto's liquidation would then proceed in an orderly fashion. When presented to the public, Jakob refuses to tell the truth, but is shot before he can make his own speech.
In the film's ending, Jakob says, post-mortem, that all the ghetto's residents were then deported and were never seen again. As in the novel, there is an "alternate" fairy tale-style ending where the Soviet forces arrive following Jakob's death, just in time to save the Jews.
The plot is slightly different in a few places from the book. Notable discrepancies include:
- Lina is not living with Jakob from the beginning, but instead he meets her on his way home from the Gestapo station in the movie's beginning;
- The news of the radio is first told to Mischa, a friend of Jakob, to prevent him from attempting to steal potatoes off of a German military train;
- Jakob is never caught and interrogated; instead he is deported, along with the rest of the Jews, and presumably dies in a death camp;
- The movie's alternate ending has Jakob killed in front of the ghetto, instead of being shot during an escape attempt in the book's alternate ending.
Produced on a budget of $45 million, Jakob the Liar was released on September 24, 1999. According to boxofficemojo.com, it opened in 1,200 theaters and made $2,056,647 in its opening weekend, placing 8th at the box office. The film's total domestic gross was just $4,956,401.
The movie presently holds a rating of "rotten" on Rotten Tomatoes with only 30% positive reviews and an average rating of 4.7/10. Roger Ebert gave the film two stars (out of four), comparing it to the similarly themed Life is Beautiful by saying, "I prefer "Life Is Beautiful," which is clearly a fantasy, to "Jakob the Liar," which is just as contrived and manipulative but pretends it is not." He went on to say about the acting in the film: "Williams is a talented performer who moves me in the right roles but has a weakness for the wrong ones. The screenplay and direction are lugubrious, as the characters march in their overwritten and often overacted roles toward a foregone conclusion."