The Counterfeiters (German: Die Fälscher) is a 2007 Austrian-German film written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky. It stars Karl Markovics, August Diehl and Devid Streisow. It is distributed by Sony Pictures with English subtitles.
Plot. The movie is based on a memoir, entitled “The Devil’s Workshop,” by Adolf Burger, a Jewish Slovak stenographer who was involved on the Operation Bernhard plan. The plan was a secret strategy by the Nazis during the Second World War to flood the economy with fake Bank of England bills. In this way, Great Britain would be destabilized and the Nazi Empire would gain greater control.
The film opens with a rich man arriving in an expensive hotel in Monte Carlo. Later, a French woman he slept with earlier discovers the tattooed numbers on his arm. The man is actually a Nazi concentration camp survivor named Salomon Sorowitsch.
The movie rewinds back to 1936 in the war-torn Berlin. After being caught by police from forging currency and passports, Salomon Sorowitsch is imprisoned in a labor camp and then later to Mauthausen concentration camp. Inside the camp, Salomon uses his skills and paints the guards and their families in exchange for extra food rations.
Consequently, Salomon is transferred to another concentration camp where he is imprisoned with other Jews who have artistic and printing skills. There he learns that they are commissioned to forge British pounds. In return, they are kept with better conditions than other Jewish prisons, with comfortable bunks, a washroom and adequate food.
In the beginning, Salomon finds this as an opportunity for him to escape the brutality for Jews, but his motives are soon complicated by his growing concern for his fellow prisoners. Then he harbors to sabotage the Nazi operation. He tells the authority he can forge the US Dollar, and excited, the Nazis give him the chance. But Salomon and his fellow prisoners delay their task. One day, the camp guards suddenly announce that the printing machines are to be dismantled and shipped away. The counterfeiters fear that they will be killed. But before anything happens, the camps flee as the Red Army arrives. The counterfeiters rise up and, along with the other prisoners of the camp, escape and stand for their freedom.
The movie then switches back to Monte Carlo. Salomon dances with the French woman on the beach and realizes he has been throwing money all this time. However, he can always make money. He laughs.
Review. The Holocaust is a survivor’s tale and with every film dealing with this subject, we see protagonists braving this tragedy in the bloodiest and most heart-breaking means. With Stefan Ruzowitzky’s “The Counterfeiters,” we see the idea of “survival of the fittest” in a different way – very cunning, witty, suspenseful and mildly dramatic.
The movie centers around the life of a Salomon Sorowitsch with Operation Bernhard as the backdrop. Hence, it is not 100% historically accurate for it is only a fictionalized version; but what it lacks in true facts, it compensates for its deep theme of morality and guilt. In the film, the protagonist is faced with the chance of a “better” life in exchange for his service as money forger. As an outlaw, he approaches it not with the principles of a righteous man but with the self-protective instincts of a seasoned criminal. But will his cooperation justify his survival? Is his personal deliverance worth his partnership with the evil?
In the beginning, Salomon sees things for his own good. Sooner, he sees the other prisoners – impoverished, sickly and brutally mistreated. He might be a hardened man, but it is human nature to be soft, compassionate and mindful of others. Will he let that will to survive compete with his moral obligation to help others? Must justice for himself be an injustice for others? Or can he make justice for both parties?
At the end of the movie, we see the present-day Salomon, wealthy and gambling away his riches. He is disgusted with that life, but he simply does not care – he can make money. This part is somewhat funny and ironic. But Salomon is a learned man. Like every learned man, he simply have to laugh about the lessons from the past.
Reception. The Counterfeiters is a huge critical success. It appeared in many critics’ top ten lists of the best films in 2008, including being 4th in Josh Rosenblatt’s list of The Austin Chronicle. It also won the Best Foreign Language Film in the Academy Awards 2007.
Rating. Five stars out of five for this movie. This is a true classic.
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