If Greg Boardman lets it run on his screen, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be entertained and enlightened. But let’s face it: no matter how much we’d like, it’s pretty much impossible to see every movie shown there. For one reason or another we miss catching an important film we should have seen, and so renting will have to suffice. This happened to me most recently with The Wrestler, though I’m hoping to see it in St. Louis this weekend.
But one from last Oscar season (or two seasons ago, depending on how
you count) that I’m just now getting around to renting is Austria
native Stefan Ruzowitzky’s The Counterfeiters (a.k.a. Die Fälscher, based on Adolf Burger’s book The Devil’s Workshop), a 2007 film that won much acclaim in Europe and abroad.
The Counterfeiters forces us to contemplate the harsh 20th century reality of Nazi Germany and Austria and the Jews they oppressed in concentration camps. Filmed in just 30 days using a raw documentary style, the film is based on Adolf Burger’s memoirs about his time as part of the Sachsenhausen counterfeiters’ unit, known as “Operation Bernhard.” Most names have been changed and some characters’ attributes have been softened or exaggerated, as we learn in Ruzowitzky’s special features Q&A, but the general story remains true: the Nazi war machine was running out of money toward the end of the Second World War, and they wanted to bankrupt Britain, so a portion of their captives experienced in printing and graphics were employed to help them produce counterfeit American dollars and British pounds.
These men received a reprieve from the horrible conditions experienced by most Holocaust victims. As incentives to produce good work, the Nazis let them sleep in soft beds, eat and smoke plenty, listen to music all day, and take weekends off to play cards and ping pong. Yet the atrocities committed around them kept them ever aware that they could only hope to survive by out-waiting the war, and so they weakened the Germans by working slowly and making mistakes on purpose.
Among the movie’s counterfeiters are Saloman Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) and a fictionalized Adolf Burger (August Diehl). The two make an odd pair. The former, perhaps the greatest counterfeiter in all of Europe, receives scorn from his peers for his past criminal life despite his successes that keep them all alive. The latter is a socialist and intellectual originally jailed for his anti-Nazi propaganda posters. Though they exchange stories and play cards together, they butt heads on the subject of cooperating with their captors. While Sorowitsch believes there is no sensible alternative to completing their work and staying alive, Burger perceives the group’s accomplishments as great assets to Hitler’s regime and insists that they should sacrifice their lives to help end the war.
If the counterfeiters refuse to cooperate, can the Nazis just kill and replace them? If they succeed in printing a perfect match for the dollar, will they contribute to the demise of Europe? Should one just feel responsible for his own life, or for everyone’s lives? Thus, the film is a kind of “morality play,” as the director calls it, without a clear right or wrong answer.
In a brilliant ironic twist, Friedrich Herzog (Devid Striesow), the same cheery investigator who arrests Sorowitsch in Berlin for counterfeiting, becomes the officer charged with compelling the prisoners to mass-produce phony bills. He admires Sorowitsch and promises that he will live, considering him a “coworker.” At one point Herzog even invites Sorowitsch to visit his home, and we come to understand that he has some kind of sympathy for the Jews — or at least guilt for his transgressions.
I enjoyed the distinct style of shooting and editing. In moments of devastation, the sound fades and the camerawork becomes shakier. To depict hostility, the camera makes a quick zoom in on an actor’s face, heightening the tension.
Editor Britta Nahler made use of some abrupt cuts that perfectly colored the free-and-easy nature of Sorowitsch’s pre-war life: one moment he’d be in a poker game, the next he’d spot a beautiful woman, the next she’d undress in his room.
You should watch it, but probably by yourself, and definitely only when you’re in the mood for something serious. Needless to say, this is not first date or power hour material.
COMING TO A BLOG NEAR YOU
The Onion Movie. I’ve literally not heard anyone talk about this movie or read any reviews (maybe because it went straight to video?), but it always seems to be beckoning me to rent it when I pass it at Blockbuster, so I’ll bite.
College Film Reviews >