"Jacob the Liar," now at the Dupont Circle, is a sincre, well-meaning, deadly East German movie about a futile attempt to sustain the hope of liberation in a Polish Jewish ghetto during the closing stages of World War II. The title character, very respectably portrayed by VlastimilBrodsky, is a former chef who does forced labor for the Wehrmacht at a railroad depot and looks after an orphaned little girl, adorably embodied by Manuela Simon.

Discovered on the street one night past curfew and ordered to report to the local commandant, Jacob overhears part of a radio broadcast indicating that Russian troops are getting closer. He decides to spread and then exaggerate teh hopeful news. The next day he relays what he has overheard to his friends and claims to have access to a hidden radio of his own.

The other ghetto dwellers naturally hunger for fresh reports. Since the Russians are not advancing as rapidly as Jacob pretends, his deception eventually become insupportable and demoralizing. The film ends with Jacob and his fellow sufferers being transported to the death camps.

The heartbreaking aspects of this story are readily apparent, but Frank Beyer's plodding, doleful direction doesn't do a great deal to enhance them. On the contrary, he seems to be the kind of filmmaker given to dulling the edges of a painful chronicle. The movie virtually depends on evoking a patronizing form of admiration, based on the awarding of brownie points for good intentions rather than a vivid, wholehearted sense of identification with the characters and setting.

It seems a hollow gesture to pay homage to the victims of Nazism with such a passive, devitalized work of art. Beyer also has a weekness for winsome touches, represented at its kitschy worst in a fantasy supposedly imagined by the little girl, that can aggravate his banal style. "Jacob" may be considered a worthy import in some respects, but it is not an illuminating or indispensable one.