The Counterfeiters - DVD Review

The Counterfeiters tells the true story of Salomon ‘Sally’ Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), Jewish forger and aesthete who escapes German concentration camps by agreeing to help the Nazis ruin allied economies by flooding them with fake notes.

Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Oscar winner delves into the psyche of Sally and his group of Jewish comrades with genuine insight and tenderness, focusing on the issues of conscious they face on a daily basis. The film quickly narrows its focus in on the battle between Sally and fellow prisoner Burger (August Diehl), Sally on the one hand subscribing largely to the notion that the small band of Jewish forgers need to do everything they can to survive while Burger on the other hand arguing for the need to resist the Germans in every way possible.

Eventually it is a film which aspires and largely succeeds in soaring above even its weighty time period. The matter of conscious which Sally faces is indescribably awful yet contains real meaning in everyday life, however far removed we thankfully are now from conditions in Nazi Germany. Burger’s motivations are personal yet universal and Diehl’s unsympathetic portrayal of his whole-hearted libertarianism creates a worthy adversary for Markovics’ street-wise Sally. Elsewhere David Striesow creates another beautiful dichotomy in the form of Sturmbannfuhrer Herzog who despite saving the Jews from ‘the final solution’, eventually only manipulates them for this own gains. Sally’s visit to Herzog’s home provides him with the catalyst for moral recompense as he glimpses the gains that can be had from fraudulent means, the repercussions of which Ruzowitzky deals with in the film’s coda.

If there is error here it is slight but occasionally Ruzowitzky’s character development and storytelling prowess plays false. Sally’s interactions with both Marie Baumer’s Aglaia and Dolores Chaplin’s unnamed female interest are never really fully explored or realised yet house obvious feeling and potential. Similarly the change in Sally’s moral compass is never less than convincing in terms of Markovics’ portrayal but occasionally muddled or rushed by Ruzowitzky’s direction. The film clocks in at less than one hundred minutes and it often feels that there was a significantly longer character piece here had any of the creative team shown an interest in pursuing it.

Despite this however, The Counterfeiters remains an accomplished film in anyone’s language which deals with weighty issues at a time of extreme and tragic violence. The questions it poses its audience are nothing but frank and challenging and its tone is well established and maintained. Following on from The Lives Of Others, The Counterfeiters shows that German cinema is in a prime time of productivity, encountering and facing its history with a tenderness and honesty still sadly absent from many countries’ cinematic endeavors.

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