Hope is a positive and potent spiritual practice with the power to pull us through difficult times. It is often discovered in unexpected places. That certainly is the case in this sober drama directed by Peter Kassovitz, which is set in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
Robin Williams, who served as executive producer of the film, plays Jakob, a middle-aged widower who was a cafT owner in a small town that has become a Jewish ghetto. Sent to Nazi headquarters for breaking the curfew, he accidentally hears a radio dispatch stating that Russian forces are close and are threatening the Germans. He shares this good news with Mischa (Liev Schreiber), a young boxer he once managed, and soon the whole ghetto has concluded that Jakob has a forbidden radio. Now everyone wants to know what he's heard about the progress of the war. In order to keep up their spirits, the storyteller begins fabricating wild accounts of the liberation just around the bend.
Jakob the Liar has a theme similar to the multiple Academy Award-winning 1998 Life Is Beautiful how deception sometimes can be used for a good cause. However, the emphasis here is upon storytelling as an ancient Jewish survival technique. Jakob's fanciful renderings of reality lower the suicide rate in the Jewish community, even alleviating the fatalistic feelings of his barber friend Kowalski (Bob Balaban). Jakob's mythical radio pulls Lina (Hannah Taylor Gordon), a ten-year-old girl who's hiding with him, out of her illness. It infuriates Frankfurter (Alan Arkin), an old theatre trouper, while inspiring Kirschbaum (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a doctor who eventually sacrifices himself for the sake of the community. Jakob the Liar celebrates hope as an essential part of the scaffolding of human existence.