Worth A Look: 25%
Just Average: 25%
Pretty Crappy: 25%
3 reviews, 18 user ratings
|Jakob The Liar
Any film about the suffering of the Jewish people during World War II must tread the fine line between being respectful to the subject matter and being an entertaining film. I think "Jacob the Liar" was successful in both areas.WARNING - In order to review this film and discuss its meaning, I have to reveal the ending. So . . . if you don't want to know what happens in the end, please don't read this until after you have seen the film.
"'Jacob the Liar' succeeded in being both respectful and entertaining."
Jakob is a Jewish resident of a ghetto. He overhears encouraging news on the German commander's radio. Jakob then tells others in the ghetto the news that he heard to improve their morale. His friends jump to the conclusion he has a hidden radio. Jakob then make up stories he says he heard on the radio about how the Allies are succeeded against the Germans. Morale in the ghetto improves and the inmates begin to consider an uprising. This puts Jacob in a morale dilemma. (If the Nazis think there is a radio, they may start killing people until the radio is produced.)
The film does succeed in showing, in a sombre way, how gruesome ghetto life was. However, I felt that the tone of the film was not sombre enough as it had several cases of what I felt were inappropriate humor. Examples are the scene where the boxer was following Jacob (with the music soundtrack having a comic tone), and the scene where Jacob and the doctor’s friends hid in a closet when the Gestapo came to the doctor's house. I felt that these scenes did not jell with the suffering the film was intending to show. Because this jarred me out of the film, I did not get the true sense of the terrible conditions in the ghetto.
Robin Williams gave a serious performance as Jakob. This contrasted too much with the physical humor, keeping that humor from working. However, even though I did not like the physical humor, I felt that the humor in the dialogue was a positive point for the film. Also the dialogue shows how people will use humor to survive a horrible situation. Some examples are:
Jewish Man: Mr. Frankfurter, the Russians are going to bomb us.
Mr. Frankfurter: That is the good news?
Jewish Man: Jews put their trust in God to protect them.
Mr. Frankfurter: We must admit that line of reasoning hasn't gotten us very far.
Jacob: I believe we are the chosen people, but I wish the Almighty had chosen somebody else.
This humor in the dialogue highlights the terrible conditions the Jews had to deal with in
The part of the film I liked the best is the scene where Jacob pretends to the little girl that
he has a radio, hides behind a screen, and imitates the voices of the BBC for the little
girl. She turns around and sees his ruse. If you listen closely to their conversation before
Jakob imitates the radio, it is clear why she can see his deception, and, at the same time,
believe he really has a radio. Then, after Jakob finished his BBC imitation, he played
the "Beer Barrel Polka" on his gramophone and danced with the girl. I felt this scene
was touching as it demonstrated how Jakob and the little girl were able to survive ghetto
life by finding small bits of joy in the middle of the horrible conditions around them.
Survival is one of the main themes in the film. This theme is seen in much of
the dialogue, in the little girl pretending to drive the tram, the bonding of Jakob and the
little girl, and the bonding together of all the main Jewish characters.
Another important theme is hope. We see this in the way that Jakob tries to give the residents hope and strength. (An example is the residents electing Jakob and planning an uprising.) Also, the need for hope in the ghetto is shown by the fact that the Nazis try to demoralise the Jews by taking away hope. (The Jewish star sewn on the clothes is a good example of trying to create despair.)
Another theme is desperation. Examples are the séance, the suicide rate, and the character of the little girl. (The small girl reminded me of Anne Frank.)
A strong theme that Jakob personifies at the end of the film is responsibility and heroism. Another theme is lying, which is seen throughout the film.
The interaction between the Germans and the residents of the ghetto make the film seem real. For example, the commander treats Jakob in a demeaning way, and then a moment later, lets him eat a piece of chicken and talks to him in a "civilized" way.
The film shows the stupidity of war. The suicide of the barber is one example. Another example occurs towards the conclusion of the story. Dr Kirschbaum, a world famous Jewish cardiologist, has to see the German general who has a heart problem. The German doctor says he is honored to meet him Dr. Krishbaum. Krishbaum then says he now cleans latrines. Then, in the execution scene, we see ordinary citizens on apartment balconies outside the ghetto wall calmly looking at the execution as if it were some sort of show.
The color palette used consists of sombre and muted dark (mostly grey) tones. These colors give a graphic impression of the ghetto. This impression is strengthened in the opening scene as the dark tones tie in with the hanging men Jakob sees as he chases after a newspaper. (If you look closely, you can see the wire pulling the paper.)
If you rent or buy the DVD version make sure see the director’s commentary, it is very good, better than many I have seen. The director explains why he used humor. He tells a lot of interesting facts, such as the fact that one of the actors was a holocaust survivor and gave valuable advice on the making of the film.“Jakob the Liar” while not as powerful a film as “Schindler’s List” is still well worth watching. Jakob is one of Robin Williams' best roles. He absolutely shines in his part.
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originally posted: 06/14/02 09:56:07