The Counterfeiters
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky (Anatomie 1/2, All the Queen's Men)
Novel: Adolf Burger
Screenplay: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Producers: Josef Aichholzer, Nina Bohlmann, Babette Schröder
Starring: Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Martin Brambach, August Zirner
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 99 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

reviewed by Andrew James
      Winner of the Academy Award for best foreign language film, The Counterfeiters had a lot to live up to in my mind. Especially having just seen the exquisite Cannes winner from Romania, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, which was not nominated for anything; but should have, as it is one of the three best films of 2007. Happily, The Counterfeiters doesn't disappoint and is a stellar film; even if it does suffer from a bit of the "holocaust movies always win awards" syndrome.

      What amazes me most about a film like this is the sheer number of fascinating stories to come out of the depression that was World War II. You'd think that one could only make so many films about the event and eventually all the stories would start to bleed together. Fortunately this is not the case. It seems that every time I turn around, there's another compelling story from the front lines or a story that's never been told before focussing on some small part of the "underground resistances". These are the stories that need to be told and from which I always gather a new bit of knowledge or fascination.

      The Counterfeiters focusses on one such smaller story that I hadn't heard before. We start the film with a man named Salomon who is being arrested by the Nazis for attempting to counterfeit currency. He's sent to a concentration camp and must endure the horrors that we all know come with such a place until one day when his artisitc talent is discovered by one of the top lieutenants. He enjoys a relatively tolerable existance as he is now given plenty of food with no hard labor in exchange for his services as an artist; painting Nazi war propaganda and family portraits of the enemy. After five years, he's sent away to another concentration camp along with a few other men. It seems he's been hand picked by his captors to help aid the Nazis in counterfeiting British pounds in an attempt to cripple Britain's economy. He, along with several other men, are given "luxury" barracks and decent treatment (comparatively) in exchange for his services.

      Salomon believes in doing anything to survive long enough to see the end of the war and life on the outside of a concentration camp. This is the way, he believes, that the Nazis will be defeated. Others within his crew don't feel the same way. Some believe that by printing fake money, they're helping the Nazis win the war and will have no part of it. Stalling and other tactics begin to come into play. But the problem is that if the gang doesn't deliver on the dollars, other good men in the group will be shot in the head. As leader of the group and expert counterfeiter, Salomon must then decide whether to give up his stalling comrades or continue to stall in hopes that his Nazi captors are just bluffing.

      While this may seem to be just another disturbing holocaust movie at first glance, it actually delves much deeper into the human spirit and the courage of holding to one's political, social and moral convictions - no matter what the cost. You'll see this particular dilemma really hit home by the end of the film and it gives its audience a lot to ponder. Also, this moral and ethical dilemma is really what seperates this film from others of the genre but still uses the disturbing imagery and events of the holocaust to help drives its point home even harder.

      Being a German film, I didn't recognize any of the actors from anything else, but they all play their parts terrifically. The lead who plays Salomon, though looking physically inept, plays the role with strength and a tinge of badass. His character has seen the harsh realities of criminal life and knows how to handle himself and others - including the Nazi guards. It's a role that commands attention, even if his bodily frame-work appears frail and skeletal.

      While I still believe the Academy got it wrong again, I don't have a lot to complain about with The Counterfeiters. It's a magnificent film that takes it cues from previous holocaust stories such as The Pianist or Schindler's List and brings us a whole new and interesting tale from the world's greatest conflict. Most certainly a must-see picture.

Click "play" to see the trailer:

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