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Jakob Heym (Robin Williams) lives in a Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II and in the German compound - sent in to be disciplined for a kurfew offence - he overhears a radio news bulletin indicating Soviet military success against the Germans. On his way back to the ghetto, he finds an abandoned young girl who demands his help and protection. Back in the ghetto, when Jakob whispers the secret news of the war to two despondent friends, the rumour spreads that he has a hidden radio, an offense punishable by death. He sparks hope in the ghetto and feels compelled to recount fictional news bulletins to keep spirits alive. When the Germans hear about a radio in the ghetto, a search begins…

"Life is Beautiful this ain't! Jakob the Liar is a fraud: a pretentious film that purports to be a substantial cinematic experience about a serious topic, but in fact is a Hollywood sham that should never have been made. The accents are phoney, the script is totally unbelievable and the top cast is left to maintain its dignity. Robin Williams is a wonderful talent; if you are a fan, hire Mrs Doubtfire at your video store. Williams is badly miscast here – as executive producer, he sadly was too close to the project. The talents of Alan Arkin, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Liev Schreiber are totally wasted – and what talents they are! But there is so much talent gone to waste here. The East European settings and exquisite detail of production designer Luciana Arrighi's authentic setting compliment Edward Shearmur's melancholy musical mood, but are at odds with all-else plastic. There's no disputing the validity of such a story – as a book, Jakob the Liar could well be poignant and moving, but here the forced ironic humour is melodrama, the plot contrived. The final reel has a few moments of nuance, pathos and emotion, but it's just too late, and none of it is believable anyway. If you're interested, this is actually a remake of an acclaimed 1974 East German film called Jakob, der Lügner, with the novel's author Jurek Becker writing the script and Armin Mueller-Stahl also in the cast. That version won the Oscar in 1977 for Best Foreign Film and took out the Best Actor award (for Vlastimil Brodský) at the Berlin International Film Festival. Why oh why does Hollywood think that a fistful of dollars can bring up trumps? Avoid this film at all costs."
Louise Keller

"After the opening joke (reprinted below), the film slides into an abyss of mawkish, manipulative and misguided melodrama. It lacks dramatic tension until the final quarter, when - as Louise says - it's too late. We've locked our jaws and clenched our hearts against this travesty of a film, whose script should have been incinerated in the ovens of Hollywood. It betrays the heart of the story so completely as to be offensive, by nothing more malignant that misjudged accents, mistaken direction and missing drama. Even Robin Williams does not save this film, and neither does the heavy handed score. Looks really great (camera and design), but that's not enough, either. If anything, those elements highlight the disaster of the script and direction. Faltering between pathetic attempts at comedy and Holocaust cliché, Jakob is as embarrassing as a long, bad taste joke that falls flat. I sympathised with one of the characters when he asked in a pathetic tone of voice, 'Can somebody please tell me what is the point of all this?' Nobody answered him."
Andrew L. Urban

The opening joke:
Hitler goes to a fortune teller who tells him he will die on a Jewish holiday. How can she tell, he asks. Because, she says, whenever he dies it will be a Jewish holiday.

This is told by way of explaining how the Jews used humour to survive the darkest days; small shards of light in the darkness.

Now we've saved you $12, please make a donation to the Jewish Foundation for Life Supporting Jokes.

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CAST: Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Liev Schreiber, Bob Balaban, Hannah Taylor Gordon, Michael Jeter, Nina Siemaszko, Mathieu Kassovitz

DIRECTOR: Peter Kassovitz

PRODUCER: Marsha Garces Williams, Steven Haft

SCRIPT: Peter Kassovitz & Didier Decoin (based on the book by Jurek Becker)


EDITOR: Claire Simpson

MUSIC: Edward Shearmur


RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 4 - Brisbane, Perth
November 18 – Adelaide; November 25, 1999 – Sydney, Melbourne

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