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Jakob Heym (Robin Williams) used to run a restaurant until the Nazi's built a brick wall at the end of his street. Now, Jacob and his other Jewish neighbors find it hard to get hold of a piece of bread, let alone a hot meal, in their enclosed Polish ghetto.
Shut out from news of the rest of the world, life in the community is merely an existence. Then, one fateful day, Jakob discovers two things. First, he accidentally overhears a radio broadcast and learns that Russian troops are advancing against the Germans and moving into Poland. Second, he finds ten-year-old Lina (Hannah Taylor Gordon) who escaped from a train headed for a concentration camp and desperately needs a home.
While Jakob can hide Lina in his attic, he finds it impossible to conceal the hope inspired by the news story, especially with his friend who is contemplating suicide. Within the day the entire ghetto has heard that the Russians are coming but, as with all gossip, some of the facts have been confused. Now, with everyone convinced he has a radio (an offense punishable by death), Jakob is in the position of providing hope to the community through his regular "news" of the war -- even though he must make everything up.
Obviously this film deals with subject matter that wouldn't be considered light (although some of the German accents are reminiscent of Hogan's Heroes). A couple of men are beaten, one is shot off-screen, another on-screen, people are seen hanging in the streets, and near the end a man is held, beaten, and nearly drowned as the Germans attempt to extract information. In another sub-plot, a young unmarried couple decide to enter into a sexual relationship with the attitude that there is nothing to live for anyway.
From what I understand, the greatest accomplishment of the original novel upon which this film is based, was its ability to see humor within such tragic circumstances. Unfortunately, the emotions in this movie are so confused, it's hard to know what or who to believe.
Jakob The Liar is rated PG-13:
Cast: Robin Williams, Hannah Taylor-Gordon
Studio: (pictures (c) 1999 Columbia Pictures)