Thursday, February 05, 2009

JAKOB THE LIAR - should a Holocaust film really be a feel-good movie?

Jakob Heym: Hitler goes to a fortune-teller and asks, "When will I die?" And the fortune-teller replies, "On a Jewish holiday." Hitler then asks, "How do you know that?" And she replies, "Any day you die will be a Jewish holiday."

JAKOB THE LIAR is a schmaltzy, manipulative but patently earnest film about the Holocaust. Robin Williams is in typically over-the-top as Jakob, shut in the ghetto, who stumbles into telling his fellow sufferers uplifting lies of advancing Allies via his illicit, imaginary, radio. This newfound hope transforms them: Liev Schreiber's loveable Mischa starts courting.

The problem with this film is that it takes a fundamentally grim subject and tries to turn it into a tale about the triumph of the human spirit. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. It's the same problem I had with SCHINDLER'S LIST and LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL: both earnest, well-made, and arguably better-written and acted than this film. There is something that strikes me as hokey in anything that dilutes the raw power of documentaries like THE SORROW AND THE PITY or SHOAH.

JAKOB THE LIAR played Toronto 1999. It is available on DVD.

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