The Counterfeiters

Film

War films

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Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>5</span>/5

User ratings:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>4</span>/5
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Time Out says

Mon Oct 8 2007

The idea of ‘surviving’ the Holocaust takes on many nuances in Stefan Ruzowitzky’s stark and intriguing evocation of a largely unknown area of Second World War German history: the use of skilled prisoners to create counterfeit currency for Operation Bernhard, a plan to flood the British and American economies with fake cash. Ruzowitzky gives us Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), a successful, Jewish forger in the pre-war Berlin of 1936 whose instinct for self-preservation, in peacetime as well as war, is best summed up by his nonchalant attitude to the creeping pogrom: ‘I am me – and the others are the others.’

Hours later, Salomon is arrested, and for the rest of the ’30s and until the end of the war he finds himself putting his skills to a different use, first in Mauthausen and later Sachenshausen. He discovers that sketching Nazi officers brings a reward of better food, and soon his hosts transfer him to the ‘golden cage’, a hot-house of industry in the corner of a camp where uptight ex-bankers and criminals collude in producing dodgy notes in an environment of relative comfort. The film’s core dilemma emerges when the team are on the verge of cracking the dollar: if they continue, will they betray whatever political instincts they have left? And, if they succeed, will they become surplus to requirements and lose their privileges or, worse, be killed?

It’s the latter quandry which highlights some of the film’s curious and daring psychologies. We’re well-versed in Holocaust dramas in which the Nazis and the Jews are treated as separate, homogeneous entities; here, things are more complex. War doesn’t bestow a new personality on Salomon, it simply offers a new context within which this lone gun – his background is strikingly sketchy – must survive. More importantly, Ruzowitzky is aware that not all moral standards can survive the perversity of the Holocaust. As such, we’re invited to observe the behaviour in this studio within the greater theatre of war and rarely to judge, even when it comes to the Nazis. Ruzowitzky handles this perspective to excellent effect: despite our awareness of the Holocaust, we only see what Salomon sees – or, crucially, wants to see – even though we, like him, can hear the sound of gun-shots outside. He directs with urgency, lingering little, employing ample jolt-zooms and dousing his film in a colour palette that takes its cue from the grey stripes of the prisoners’ uniforms.

His meshing of plot with debate is impressive. His film is compelling and clever.

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Release details

UK release:

Fri Oct 12, 2007

Duration:

99 mins

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5

Average User Rating

4.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:4
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:1
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LiveReviews|16
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SR

I think that this film was amazing. This is how a film about the Holocaust should be made - I'm sure that most experienced it far worse than Sorowitcz, but I found it to be very realistic, which was the film's strength. It brought through the basic message that: people are people. I'm glad that they showed a human side to one of the Germans and made one of the Jews antagonistic. It made it far more realistic, in my eyes, than something like Schindler's List which is made by Spielberg (I need say no more). I like the fact that it was, an ndeb said: "cold and unengaging" - purely because the events of the Holocaust were cold and unengaging.

SR

I think that this film was amazing. This is how a film about the Holocaust should be made - I'm sure that most experienced it far worse than Sorowitcz, but I found it to be very realistic, which was the film's strength. It brought through the basic message that: people are people. I'm glad that they showed a human side to one of the Germans and made one of the Jews antagonistic. It made it far more realistic, in my eyes, than something like Schindler's List which is made by Spielberg (I need say no more). I like the fact that it was, an ndeb said: "cold and unengaging" - purely because the events of the Holocaust were cold and unengaging.

Jon Walsh

Well - so far - little scepticism amongst reviewers about how we were given the acceptable face of Nazi holocaust perpetrators - in that the camp commandant was given human traits. We are not shown his part in the - running to death with sandbags in under-sized shoe ordeal. But hey - he was the ex-communist who moved with the times! Nonetheless an unsentimental film that allowed the viewer to perceive it as approximating the authentic and my prevailing thought was - imagine what this would have turned into in the hands of a Hollywood production team.

Jon Walsh

Well - so far - little scepticism amongst reviewers about how we were given the acceptable face of Nazi holocaust perpetrators - in that the camp commandant was given human traits. We are not shown his part in the - running to death with sandbags in under-sized shoe ordeal. But hey - he was the ex-communist who moved with the times! Nonetheless an unsentimental film that allowed the viewer to perceive it as approximating the authentic and my prevailing thought was - imagine what this would have turned into in the hands of a Hollywood production team.

EM

An excellent film. It shows the shades of grey in the Holocaust which is so very often depicted as starkly black and white. Considering how few SS personnel were in each concentration camp, the Jews who agreed to work for the Nazis, however unwillingly, were crucial to the successes of the Final Solution and the Nazi war effort. This film gives us a taste of that side of the story that people are understandably reluctant to explore.

EM

An excellent film. It shows the shades of grey in the Holocaust which is so very often depicted as starkly black and white. Considering how few SS personnel were in each concentration camp, the Jews who agreed to work for the Nazis, however unwillingly, were crucial to the successes of the Final Solution and the Nazi war effort. This film gives us a taste of that side of the story that people are understandably reluctant to explore.

Horace

How to make a film about the Holocaust that is not sensational, simplistic or sentimental? This film does it by focusing on one small story of survival. It avoids all platitudes. The 'hero' is no saint. The detailed observation is brilliant and the acting performances exemplary The ever-present sense of imminent violence and death is probably more effective than actually showing them, though the film does not shirk a few such scenes. It makes for pretty grim (though a black humour is in evidence from time to time) and totally compelling cinema.

Horace

How to make a film about the Holocaust that is not sensational, simplistic or sentimental? This film does it by focusing on one small story of survival. It avoids all platitudes. The 'hero' is no saint. The detailed observation is brilliant and the acting performances exemplary The ever-present sense of imminent violence and death is probably more effective than actually showing them, though the film does not shirk a few such scenes. It makes for pretty grim (though a black humour is in evidence from time to time) and totally compelling cinema.

dalittlewood

Not Schindler's list, but a gripping story about moral choices made by amoral people. A story that should be heard to let us know what went on during the war. The film was not too long - a rare commodity these days.

dalittlewood

Not Schindler's list, but a gripping story about moral choices made by amoral people. A story that should be heard to let us know what went on during the war. The film was not too long - a rare commodity these days.

lone_rocker

A tense ride, never knowing whether the next day brings execution or a new 'incentive'. This film puts you in the camp and forces you to think just what your own survivial strategy and morals would be, while conveying the pathos of everyday existence in a place where humans are reduced to garbage. Lighter moments and the introspective mood of the film give space for thought and hope.

lone_rocker

A tense ride, never knowing whether the next day brings execution or a new 'incentive'. This film puts you in the camp and forces you to think just what your own survivial strategy and morals would be, while conveying the pathos of everyday existence in a place where humans are reduced to garbage. Lighter moments and the introspective mood of the film give space for thought and hope.

ndeb

Beautifully made, interesting story, no regrets at all about seeing it, but somehow strangely cold and unengaging... Hard to care about the characters, despite what should have been dramatic and emotional events.

ndeb

Beautifully made, interesting story, no regrets at all about seeing it, but somehow strangely cold and unengaging... Hard to care about the characters, despite what should have been dramatic and emotional events.