Jacob the Liar

(Jakob der Lügner)

GDR, 1974, 101 min, color
In German; English and other subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)


In a Jewish ghetto in German-occupied Poland in 1944, Jacob Heym is summoned to the police station. While there, Jacob overhears on the radio that "the Russians are twenty kilometers from Bezanika." The next day he tells this to a despondent friend who is about to commit suicide and the news renews his hope in salvation. As no one would believe the true story, Jacob pretends to have a radio; as no one in the ghetto is allowed to have a radio, however, all are eager to hear news from the outside world and constantly ask Jacob for updates on the advance of the Soviets. Jacob creates fictional reports to help alleviate the unbearable hopelessness of those around him, but his lies cannot stop the machinery that brings death to all the ghetto inhabitants.


A bittersweet comedy loaded with human quirks and nuance. Based on the book by Jurek Becker.


Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1977, the story was remade in Hollywood starring Robin Williams in 1999.


2021 Teicholz Holocaust Remembrance Film Series, Holocaust Museum Los Angeles, USA
2018 Images of the Future: The Cinema of East Germany, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1977 Best Foreign Language Film Nominee, Academy Awards
1975 Best Actor for Vlastimil Brodsky, Berlin International Film Festival

Press comments

Jacob the Liar with Armin Mueller-Stahl was rated "A-" by Entertainment Weekly, Issue 535 April 14, 2000. It was also given 2 stars by the video review publication Video Librarian.


"Forceful, funny, and poignant."
The New York Times


"While dozens of contemporary films have deservedly died and have long since been buried in archive tombs, ... Beyer's film is a cinematic gem which offers much to talk about and to learn from."
— Renate Holland-Moritz in the Berlin Eulenspiegel, Aug. 1975


"On the cinema screen, we don't see any showy drama. No pictures of beatings, torture and death. No chase scenes, no heroes and no action. There is nothing about this film that reminds one of Hollywood's tried and true formula of success. We only see a depiction of people (also those who wield power and instill fear as if it were their lawful duty)."
— Elke Schieber in Regie: Frank Beyer, Berlin, 1995


"The material was there since 1965, after which it appeared as a novel and became successful: Jacob the Liar by Jurek Becker."
Das zweite Leben der Filmstadt Babelsberg


"Jurek Becker's Jacob the Liar broke with the tradition of the anti-fascist genre by treating the story of Jews in a Nazi ghetto as a sentimental fairy tale."
The Oxford History of World Cinema


"A movie of quiet power, deep integrity and shattering insight."


"An extraordinary film ... remarkable in wringing much full-blooded, absurdly funny comedy from a situation in which every resonance appalls."
Bloombury Foreign Film Guide


"...the best film to come out of the former East Germany."
Toronto Star


"The beauty of this film is in its simplicity. There's no mugging for comedic effect, no pat jokes, no elaborate fantasies as in Life Is Beautiful. Set in a confined neighborhood and filmed like a play on spare yet realistic sets, the bitter comedy is loaded with human quirks and nuances."
— Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle, November 5, 1999


"The second Jakob the Liar is a warmer, more satisfying film, which says as much about the waning power of history as it recedes in the rearview as it does about Hollywood production values."
SF Weekly, 1999


Buy the DVDStream
DVD Bonus Features:
  • Trace of the Times, a documentary about director Frank Beyer
  • Introductory trailer of DEFA films
  • Biographies, pictures, and more
  • English, Spanish, French, and Hebrew subtitles
  • Turn Subtitles On/Off

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