Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Counterfeiters

Written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky

An intriguing and dramatic thriller, this year’s winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar is an Austrian/German co production with an all-star cast, telling a true story from the darkest time of their shared heritage.

Loveable rogue, consummate artist, crook and counterfeiter Saloman “Sally” Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) is picked up by police in the dizzying whirl of thirties Berlin.  The Nazis have come to power and dark times are ahead.  Being Jewish, he is soon in the concentration camp system, marshalling his many talents to ensure his survival.

With an assortment of other skilled artists and craftsmen, Sally is transferred to a secure block in Sachsenhausen, outside Berlin.  The top secret Operation Bernhard is in full swing: isolated from the prisoners tortured just outside their walls, the group are treated well – as long as they are working hard, counterfeiting banknotes on an unimaginably large scale.

Quickly becoming a respected figure among his fellow inmates, Sally looks out for number one, his tough guy stance and chiselled face giving him a Bogart-like presence.  As a saboteur operates among them and the pressure mounts to produce the notes or lose their lives, Sally finds himself at the centre of a powerful battle of wills.  He is forced to weigh up the moral dilemmas of their work, walking the line between giving the Nazis what they want and taking action to prevent his captors gaining even one triumph.

It’s difficult subject matter, but The Counterfeiters succeeds brilliantly, by spotlighting the various ways the men in “the golden cage” try to reconcile their favoured treatment with the dire situation of fellow prisoners, the threat of death hanging over them with the shots being fired outside.

Don’t let subtitles scare you away from this one.  Fast paced and engaging, the film draws no conclusions, but will absorb you til the very end.

This review was originally written for an online magazine, and is republished with permission.

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