The Counterfeiters


Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Written by:Stefan Ruzowitzky
Starring: Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Martin Brambach, August Zirner, Veit Stubner
Released: May 8, 2008
Grade: A

Set near the end of World War II, Salomon Sorowitsch (Markovics) is a Jew imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.  Most of the prisoners there will be killed in the gas chambers but Salomon and a few other inmates will be thrown a lifeline.  One of the officers at the camp, Friedrich Herzog (Striesow), knows that Salomon was once an expert counterfeiter.  Herzog arrested him many years ago for producing fraudulent bank notes.

The Nazis have come up with a cunning plan to attack both the English and Americans.  They intend to produce a mass of counterfeiter bank notes and then flood their economies with them.  It will allow the Germany army to buy weapons whilst creating massive inflation in both the England and the United States.

Salomon is considered crucial to their plans.  They know he has the expertise to create a perfectly forged bank note.  All those prisoners involved in the scheme are housed in a separate enclosure.  They are given fresh clothes, proper beds, decent food and running water.  It’s a paradise compared to what they’ve been subjected to in the past.  Most importantly, they’ll still alive.

Time passes and the team perfect their forgery of the English pound note.  Pressure is now on them to create an American dollar.  At this point, some of the men start questioning their own actions.  They’re keeping themselves alive but is it coming at a greater cost?  By producing the notes and helping the Germans, are they just prolonging the war and causing even more deaths?  Further, what’s going to happen when they produce the American dollar and the Germans no longer need them?  Will they be off to the gas chambers like their friends and family?

Lots of questions are asked and I love the way the film illustrates the ethical dilemmas that Salomon and his friends faced.  There’s a lot more than what I’ve described in my plot overview.  This is a really interesting story and to make it even more compelling, it’s based on a true story.  It’s described in the movie as the largest counterfeiting operation of all time.  That fact alone should grab the attention of some moviegoers.

Just as impressive as the story is the direction from Stefan Ruzowitzky.  This is a great looking film.  It’s pretty much entirely set within an enclosed shed.  The people inside have no idea what’s going on in the outside world and we share that feeling with them.  They have no sense of how the war is heading and what has become of their loved ones.

I also like the colouring of the movie.  It’s very grey and gloomy inside their building and there’s hardly any sunlight.  It again gives us an appreciation for what the situation was really like.  Let me not forget about the performances either.  Karl Markovics as Salomon Sorowitsch and Devid Striesow as Friedrich Herzog are excellent.  They may be enemies but they develop a very peculiar friendship as events unfold.

There was a lot of controversy at the Academy Awards this year when the favourite for best foreign language film, 4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days, wasn’t even nominated.  The Oscar instead went to The Counterfeiters.  Whilst I’d like to have seen 4 Months score a nomination, I believe The Counterfeiters deserved the prize.  It may be a little depressing for some but I think you’re a fool if you don’t take the time to see it.