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I just saw this movie in London last night. There were 5 people in the
audience (including myself). What a shame because this was a solid
piece of film-making. If you haven't seen The Counterfeiters, go see
it. Here's why.
The acting is outstanding all the way through. You will learn more about counterfeiting efforts by the Nazis to undermine the British and Americans. This movie has numerous layers to it, and avoids the typical clichés that all Germans acted one way, and all Jews acted another way. You learn the subtle ways that control over other people is used to manipulate them. Do you put aside your beliefs in order to survive? If so, are you being true to those beliefs? Is it better to be a dead, morally right person or a live, less moral one? These are central themes. Finally, does how we make our wealth matter? These aren't ideas unique to cinema, but the way the movie presents them is.
Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch (Markovics) is a master counterfeiter,
living a life of debauchery in pre-war Berlin, until his luck finally
runs out, and he is captured and shipped out to the Mauthausen
concentration camp. He witnesses the horrors of camp life; fellow
prisoners are beaten, shot, and starved, but Sally, determined to
survive, looks out for himself and uses his skills as an artist to
secure a more comfortable lifestyle during his incarceration. After
taking advantage of his talents, his superiors transfer him to
Sachsenhausen, where he is to oversee the largest counterfeiting
operation in history.
Here, Sally is provided with all the men and equipment he needs to crack the pound and the dollar; his criminal enterprises are now government funded. The price of failure is made clear, but the counterfeiters are also wary of the price of success, as once the currencies have been cracked, they will be surplus to requirements; their lives depend not only on their successes but also their failures.
This is where Burger (Diehl), the film's moral centre, comes into play. Unlike Sally, he sees the bigger picture, struggling to come to terms with the fact that while his work keeps him alive, it helps the Nazi war effort. Neither can he reconcile himself with the fact that while he lives in relative comfort other detainees, including his wife and children, live in squalor.
These moral dilemmas form the basis of the film, and in the face of the horrors of camp life, Sally tries to shrug them off with De Niro squints and smiles; the maxim that one must look after oneself is one repeated throughout the film. It's a very interesting idea, and it's one that is presented very well, both in terms of style and performance. The camera-work captures the bleak setting effectively, and the lead performances are uniformly excellent, but the use of tango for the score is inspired. The contrast between the music and the images adeptly complement the film's complicated moral tone. There is also a surprising amount of humour; while the bigger picture is indeed bleak, there are moments of comedy, and even if it is laughter in the dark, it is welcome and helps not only to carry the film along but humanise it and its characters.
The Counterfeiters is a very enjoyable film, which isn't something that can be said for many World War II "true stories". Its interesting exploration of adaptation and survival under extreme circumstances makes for an engaging story, and one that is definitely worth seeking out.
This is the rare - and by that I REALLY mean rare! - case of an
Austrian movie being able to bear comparison with international
competition. "Die Fälscher" is a well-made and touching movie about the
Holocaust and a special division of Jews in a concentration camp that
survived by counterfeiting money (or pretending to do so) for the
Nazis. Karl Markovics is the shining light of the cast. Who thought
that the guy who came to greater popularity by starring in "Kommissar
Rex" would end up getting roles like this one and playing them to
perfection? August Diehl is good, too, but he comes across as a bit too
dramatic at times. The Nazis - and that's the only weakness of Stefan
Ruzowitzky's movie - are the way they always are. Ruthless, cruel,
craven and at the same time stupid pigs who do everything to humiliate
the Jews at any time. Even though, that is probably the way 99% of them
really were, it would have been more interesting to get a
differentiated view on some of them.
While "Die Fälscher" may not reinvent the wheel, it is a pretty great movie. And although it's typical that Hollywood would pick only a Holocaust-story from Austria as an Oscar contender, it is exciting as hell for a movie from this country to get a nomination. I really hope that Stefan Ruzowitzky will get the award, because his movie deserves it and it could help the Austrian film industry to finally get momentum again.
I don't go to the cinema much these days. Even sitting through the
previews before I saw this I was beyond bored, even though Meryl Streep
was in two of them, even she's in boring rubbish these days.
But, 'The Counterfeiters' is classy stuff. The Austrians (as well as The Germans) are excellent at making period films (masters at detail) & when they handle the subject of The Holocaust, the few things I've seen, have been superb.
Everyone's good in this. The lead is hypnotic.
If the subject of The Holocaust interests you, don't hesitate seeing this. It's a very good film indeed. It's nice to see something brand new that you can confidently call a classic.
I thought the film was excellent on a number of grounds; the acting by the main players was uniformly good,I suppose one could carp about the main Nazi in that it was the traditional mixture of ' jolly fine fellow when out of uniform and with blonde wife and children but nightmare when faced with the Untermenschen in the camp'. The main actor was unknown to me and something of an anti-hero but the gradual emergence of his positive sides was well done.The concentration on life in the special part of the camp where only the sounds of shouts and gunshots penetrate was very well portrayed and the entire film gripped me from start to finish. I suppose there were no amazing revelations apart from the basis of the story but that was more than enough and I recommend it highly
This is about the Nazis, trying to produce false pounds and dollars in
the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. The aim is to destroy the
British and American economies. For this purpose, they use Jewish
experts, who have their privileges, like clean sheets, classical music,
showers and the possibility of not being murdered.
It could have been just another Nazi movie, but many ethic questions are raised. What is treason and can you possibly survive without it? The drama between the Hauptsturmführer and the main character, Sally, is described in an interesting way, not at least because of the brilliant acting from Karl Marcovics.
Being in concentration camp, are there any more questions than surviving the next day? Obviously there were.
The power in this film is that the action and dialogue is understated. We're not subjected to the full visual horrors of life in the concentration camps yet we feel what it was like nevertheless. The main characters' problem in reconciling the differences between being incarcerated in a 'normal' gaol along with 'normal' criminals and their 'code of conduct' - and the imprisonment and abuse of 'normal' citizens is an ever present theme that is conveyed with complete mastery by the script writer, actors and director. An incredible film of enduring merit. The gaunt features of the actors seemed tailor made for this instructive entertainment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most Holocaust narratives involve cruel Nazis and virtuous, victimized
Jews. The Counterfeiters is at least a partial exception. The Nazis in
the film are certainly cruel, but their cruelty is based on the
perverted ideals of their racist ideology and on their need to obey
orders or be killed rather than on their being innately evil men. They
are capable of decency when it's in their interest.
The Jews in the special unit of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp depicted in The Counterfeiters are assembled because of their abilities in such skills as etching, printing, and, in the case of Salomon Sorowitsch, the film's protagonist, counterfeiting. The triangles sewn into their uniforms are a mixture of green (criminal), red (socialist or communist) and, in all cases, yellow (Jewish).
Other reviewers have ably described the major theme of The Counterfeiters, the conflict between, as David Denby puts it in the March 3, 2008 New Yorker, the relative heroism of "the morally intransigent man who refuses all compromise with evil, or the trimmer who partly collaborates with an oppressor in the hope of keeping himself and others alive". It may be significant that the German title of the film, Die Fälscher, can refer to falsifiers as well as counterfeiters.
Because The Counterfeiters is repeatedly described, by its publicists and others, as a "true story", I want to focus on some of the variations between the post-war interrogation statement given by Salomon Smolianoff, the real-life master counterfeiter portrayed in the film, and the events depicted in the movie. A photocopy of Smolianoff's original interrogation statement can be found on www.lawrencemalkin.com, the website of Lawrence Malkin, the author of Kreuger's Men, an account of counterfeiting operations during World War II.
My purpose is not to expose fabrications. Rather, it is to explore variations between life and art and to determine whether, in a particular work, these variations have a pattern that supports a consistent explanation.
The Physical Setting: In the interrogation statement, Smolianoff describes being taken to "a special barrack, which was located in absolute isolation and surrounded by heavy barb-wire." In the movie, there are several occasions on which the relatively privileged participants in the counterfeiting operation are exposed to the screams of regular inmates who are being beaten and killed. Such witnessing would not have been possible with the degree of physical separation described by Smolianoff.
Pounds and Dollars: In Smolianoff's narrative, he is transferred to Sachsenhausen, after counterfeit British pound notes have been successfully produced, in order to work on the more difficult forgery of American dollars. In the movie, Sorowitsch is involved with counterfeiting both pounds and dollars.
The Man in Charge: In real life, the German counterfeiting effort was called Operation Bernhard after Bernhard Krueger, the SS man who headed it. In the movie, a fictional Inspector Herzog arrests Sorowitsch in the mid thirties and, coincidentally, heads the counterfeiting project during the final months of World War II.
Sabotage: In the interrogation statement, Smolianoff describes the decision to sabotage the counterfeiting operation as occurring when the lights go out during an American air raid:
We took this occasion to agree between us for the first time to sabotaze (sic) the whole work. We dealt our tasks and agreed that in the future every one of us should complain about the work of the other, in order to gain time, because the situation of the war, promised to us an eventually (sic) escape from everything and a liberation by the approaching Allied troops we fought each other really hard, but they couldn't miss (sic) us, because all the work depended on what we were producing.
In the movie, the sabotage is the result of continual discussion between Sorowitsch, the partial collaborator who is concerned primarily with survival, and Adolf Burger, a printer and Communist activist who is willing to sacrifice his life, along with the lives of his fellow prisoners, in order to hamper the German war effort. This is the conflict that David Denby refers to and considers, correctly in my opinion, to be the film's central focus.
Like Smolianoff, Burger is a real person. He wrote memoirs about his experiences shortly after the war and revised and re-published them, under the title The Devil's Workshop, in the 1970s. The introduction to an interview with Stefan Ryzowitzky, the director of The Counterfeiters (www.cineaste.com/articles/the-counterfeiters.htm), states that "Burger played a small but significant part in both establishing and sabotaging the process, although in the film he is presented as the leader of the campaign to subvert the operation."
I believe that these examples show that there are consistent and coherent explanations for the ways in which Ryzowitzky adapted source material for his film: quite simply, to tell a better story and to emphasize the difference between the perspectives of Smolianoff/Sorowitsch and Burger. Throughout history, writers have adapted historical events to fit artistic purposes. Another, more extreme, cinematic example is in The Last King of Scotland where the Scottish doctor who befriends Idi Amin is entirely fictional.
These alterations are not on the level of the deceptions of Binjamin Wilkomirski in Fragments or Misha Defonsece in Misha: a Mémoire of the Holocaust Years. Although these books are presented as factual, they have, beyond any reasonably doubt, been exposed as creatures of their writers' imaginations. They present both short-term problems in that they give aid and comfort to those who wish to deny or minimize the Holocaust and more fundamental difficulties in that they lead readers to question the existence of historical truths at any level.
In all of these situations, they are simple solutions. Dramatic renditions of historical events should include explicit statements of what is and is not historically accurate. Fictional narratives should be published as fiction even if such honesty reduces their status as potential best sellers. In these respects, filmmakers, publishers, and editors all share a responsibility with writers.
The story of Die Fälscher had to be told because it is a unique one
that reveals both an extraordinary Jeweish experience under the Nazis,
that of the arch-counterfeiter and surviver Salomon Sorowitsch (or
"Sallie," Karl Markovics), and another level of Third Reich insanity,
their idea, or somebody's, of flooding the market with fake pounds
sterling and American dollars and thus somehow bringing down the Allies
through economic sabotage, late in the game.
On the other hand when one compares this film with something with the grandeur of sweeping Holocaust films like Spielberg's Schindler's List and Polanski's The Pianist, or the poetry of Lajos Koltai's Fateless (Sorstalanság), Ruzowitzsky's film seems somehow pinched and narrow-minded. It's a good story and a tense one but it dos not sing and it will not change your life.
One reason is that the Russian-born Sallie--his story framed by inconclusive later episodes of his gambling after the war-- is such an unappealing figure. He is an ugly little hard-faced man, expressionless at key moments, and extremely difficult to care about. And nobody cares about him. When he gets syphoned off with some others from the direct path to concentration camp death at Mauthausen to work on the Nazi's mad secret project , he is the key to its success. There are bankers, printers, graphic designers, lithographers ; not evidently any other counterfeiters at all, but we take it on faith that he is an ace at the trade, worthy to head up any team aimed at creating banknotes foolproof enough to survive repeated scrutiny in massive quantities. The other men on the team bow to him, because he alone can maintain quality control and make the project a success. But do they want to make it a success? Herein lies the obvious dilemma. For Sorowitsch, survival is the priority. At the opposite extreme, Adolf Burger (August Diehl), a collotype specialist whose printing experience was for leftist political purposes, sabotaging the project is the only real option.
All we know is that SS Chief Inspector Herzog (David Striesow) supervises this business; and it was he who arrested Sorowitsch in the first place. Sorowitsch has managed to gain favor in the camp by putting himself forward as a gifted sketch artist who does portraits of officers families. Apparently this has gone on for years before the counterfeiting scheme began. The screenplay is a bit vague about the background of this effort, who approved it, who masterminded it; obviously it is essential to the welfare of Herzog. But as the Nazis' situation becomes increasingly desperate and Berger's efforts to block the making of a perfect dollar keep succeeding, Herzog himself is in trouble.
There are other important characters that give the story life. The sweet young Russian boy Kolya (Sebastian Urzendowsky) is a purist, living only for his individual style and his love of the classic Russian modernists. Unfortunately he has tuberculosis, and no one can save him, not the resident doctor, Klinger (August Zirner), nor Sallie with his bargaining power over the increasingly desperate Herzog.
All this definitely holds your attention in its rather terrible grip. The duel between Sallie and the idealistic Burger achieves a tormenting level of moral complexity. Sallie is selfish, but in saving himself he is saving the whole team; in wanting to become a martyr Burger is volunteering the others for martyrdom without their permission. in between there are drones and bankers who simply want to do a job and if possible somehow also stay alive. Outside the counterfeiting team's little compound where the beds have nice linen terrible things happen, and sometimes the terror penetrates in to them too.
The most powerful sequence is at war's end when the "real" concentration camp prisoners, dirty, bleeding, and skeletal, creep into the money makers barracks with guns, unable to believe they are prisoners. This sets the experience in the context of nightmare horror and grasps a minute of the awesome poetry of Fateless' final moments, when the fifteen-year-old György Köves wanders into Budapest and takes a tram wearing his prison stripes. Otherwise, good acting and a compelling story still aren't enough to put this in the first rank of films of this genre.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After reading the reviews on IMDb I decided to go to see the movie.
This is a 1936 true story about a counterfeiter Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) who after stints in counterfeiting German currency before World War II is arrested and made prisoner in the concentration camp, where he observes the bloody, uneasy tortures and humiliations of fellow prisoners; until he finds a way to showcase his talent to step outside the prison to draw portraits and pictures of German Commanders and Officers. He is soon promoted by Germans to a position of counterfeiting the dollars in the famous Project Bernhard. The trials and tribulations of Salomon's time in the prison are alarming and sad to watch. The movie ends by showing Salomon as a free man, who lots of counterfeit money that he recklessly spends in casinos and poker games. For him after living a life in concentration camp he knows what value the money has! The movie solely belongs to Karl Markovics, who has acted magnificently as the counterfeiter. He adds his own style of projecting range of traumatic emotions and thoughts by just a twitch of his eye or lips. Fantastic performance! There are usual characters in the movie that support the protagonist the fellow prisoners, the brutal officer, the paternal figure leader of prisoners, a prisoner doctor, etc.
The Austrian Director Stephan Ruzowitzky maintains a tight narration very close to the script he has written. He also creates the brutal Nazi concentration camp feel the clichéd Nazi characters and starved prisoners.
Some scenes are too stark and hard hitting that move your heart and make you cry.
My only complain (but a minor one) is the hand held camera used that sometimes distracts us from the serious gravity of steady scene.
On the whole a good movie.
(Stars 7 out of 10)
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