Winner of the Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film, The Counterfeiters tells the true story of Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), a swindler who made a name for himself as Berlin's "King of the Counterfeiters." However, his life of women and easy money is cut short when he's arrested and placed in a Nazi concentration camp. With the German army on the verge of bankruptcy, Sorowitsch makes a sobering deal with his captors: in exchange for a comfortable bed, good food and fair treatment, Sorowitsch, along with the other hand-picked specialists, must counterfeit bank notes to fund the Nazi War effort. If he does as they say, he lives another day. If he rebels, he faces the same fate as the rest of the camp's prisoners. But if he lives, will he be able to live with himself?
A deft blend of suspense and docudrama, Stefan Ruzowitzky's sixth feature focuses on history's largest counterfeiting operation. Before World War II breaks out, Salomon Sorowitsch (the compact yet steely Karl Markovics), a Russian-born Jew, lives the good life in Berlin. He forges documents, like passports and banknotes, and sketches beautiful women to the romantic strains of tango records. Sorowitsch's dolce vita comes to an end when he's sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. Once Reich officials decide to deploy imprisoned printers, craftsmen, and bank officials to counterfeit foreign currency, they draft Sorowitsch for "Operation Bernhard" and ship him to Sachsenhausen. Though he and his colleagues receive preferential treatment, the threat of execution hangs over their heads at all times. First, they master the pound; then they tackle the American dollar. At this point, communist co-worker Adolf Burger (The Ninth Day
's excellent August Diehl) suggests sabotage. As he explains, they're extending the conflict and increasing the death toll, but the entire team will suffer if they fail, even their SS supervisor, Freidrich Herzog (Downfall
's Devid Striesow), whose career depends on it. As Jews, however, they stand to lose more than their jobs. Based on Burger's book The Devil's Workshop
, Austria's Ruzowitzky (Anatomy) sheds a compassionate light on the guilt and complicity of survivors. Though The Counterfeiters
plays more like a prison camp movie than a Holocaust drama--Stalag 17
comes to mind--that doesn't make it any less significant, just less wrenching than some of its counterparts. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Stills from The Counterfeiters (click for larger image)