Since Amazon have seen fit to lump together reviews of both versions of this story, two separate reviews for the films: just be sure which one you're ordering when you order.
JAKOB DER LUGNER
Jakob the Liar/Jakob der Lugner was the only East German film to be Oscar-nominated and, considering how neatly it falls into the ever-popular tradition of East German films reminding the population of their sins during the war as a means to engender guilt and stifle criticism, it's surprising to learn how difficult it was to get made after the government detected a possibly subversive thread - you don't think the Nazis could be symbolising the communists, do you? It's a good film but not a great one, surprisingly visually unimaginative considering the strong qualities of Frank Beyer's other films and only really starting to hit home in the last half hour. Still, it's hard to dislike a film that begins with the caption `The story of Jakob the Liar is not true. Honest. Or perhaps it is.'
Armin Mueller-Stahl also featured in the Robin Williams remake, and its interesting to see note the way his stock-in-trade changed from slightly dense working class to his respectable and likeable grandpa schtick after the crossing the border.
JACOB THE LIAR
Jakob the Liar/Jakob der Lugner was the only East German film to be Oscar-nominated, yet it was long-forgotten by the time this much-delayed Robin Williams remake finally made it to cinema screens. Indeed, many people thought it a ripoff of Life is Beautiful, despite being finished long before it's rival.
It's certainly isn't really deserving of the contempt poured on it when it was initially released in the wake of Roberto Begnini's surprise hit. The film certainly has better design and resources than the original, but the tone is a constant problem. It's not so much that the comedy is highlighted at the expense of its Warsaw Ghetto background, more that the comedy doesn't work because it seems overplayed - like the performances, it's always a little too big to convince. On the plus side, it goes to a few darker places than the original, but loses all its Brownie points with a hideous Hollywood ending that may just be another lie but just seems like the wrong lie.
Armin Mueller-Stahl features in both the original East German version and this remake, and its interesting to see note the way his stock-in-trade changed from slightly dense working class to his respectable and likeable grandpa schtick after the crossing the border.
Only a very few films have succeeded in treating the plight of the Jews under the Nazis with a sense of humor, but this is one of them. Sort of an earlier variation on 'Life is Beautiful', but this is far less saccharine, and the humor here is dry and sad, not slapstick and wacky.
In a Jewish ghetto in 1944, Jacob is brought to the police station for curfew violation. There he hears news on the radio that the Russians are advancing nearer. He uses this hopeful news to stop a fellow ghetto resident from committing sure suicide by trying to steal extra food. But in a moment of foolishness, Jacob claims he heard the news on his own secret radio. Soon the entire town is hounding him for positive news, and the shy quiet Jacob has become an unwanted celebrity and bringer of hope, forcing him into a moral quandary and more lies.
The power of this simple fable is enhanced by some very touching flashbacks where we see these now beaten down characters as their lives were just a few years before – full of love, laughter, food to eat, nice homes.
Vlastimil Brodsky is great as Jacob, even if he's unfortunately dubbed into German. He avoids the traps of sentimentality or self-pity. Right to the end this is an honest and moving tale of trying to retain one's humanity in the face of ever more overwhelming odds. The U.S. DVD could have a better image, but the print was apparently in bad shape from ill- storage in East Germany. (This was the only East German film ever nominated for an Oscar)