Projections - Movie Reviews

Jakob the Liar

Robin Williams is at his best when he puts a lid on his exuberance and just acts.  He gives a measured, sensitive performance here as Jakob Hiam, a Jewish cafe owner in Poland during World War II.

He lives in a Ghetto fenced in by the Germans while he awaits transportation to a concentration camp.

The atmosphere in the Ghetto is bleak and hopeless, and in the fifth year of captivity, suicides are a daily occurrence.  So, Jacob, in an attempt to prevent his friend, a prizefighter (Liev Schreiber) from trying a dangerous escape, tells him that he heard a radio broadcast.  He makes up a news report that help from the Russians is on its way, postponing his friend's decision.

Immediately realizing his error in pretending to have a radio when the penalty for such is swift execution, Jakob swears him to secrecy.  However, soon the whole town knows of Jakob's radio.  He has to struggle with the decision of telling everyone that he lied to them and dash their hopes, or make up encouraging broadcasts, which endanger his life, along with that of a little girl who is hiding in his attic.

Director Peter Kassovitz depicts the horrors in the Ghetto.  Manual labor while fearing every minute that they will be beaten or shot, going back to unheated, gutted hovels that once were their businesses and homes and going to bed hungry.  Despair is written all over their faces.

Alan Arkin plays an actor who is afraid the radio will be another reason for the Germans to kill them.  Bob Balaban plays a barber who has given up hope, and Armin Mueller-Stahl is a cardiologist who has guessed Jakob's deception, but urges him to continue because of the decrease in camp suicides.

Although this film was completed before Life is Beautiful, it is closely aligned to the 1998 Oscar winner, and comparisons are bound to be made between the two.  However, here the film relies less on humor to relieve some of the horrors, and more on the eccentricities of the characters to cut through the gloom.

It is a well made drama with moving performances by a talented cast.  The images will stay with you for quite a while.

It is rated PG-13 for violence.

Jakob the Liar


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