This is a movie that I have been eagerly anticipating since it won Best Foreign Language Film earlier on this year at the Oscars. The film opens in Monte Carlo as a beaten down man walks into a hotel and opens his briefcase to show large stacks on money. Now of course with a title such as ‘The Counterfeiters’, it is obvious that this is not authentic money but the opening scene builds the deep desire to know where it came from and the story that it tells.
Five years is reversed and we see the main Character ‘Salomon Sorowitsch’ being arrested for counterfeiting and sent off to the concentration camps. After several years of just trying to survive amongst the horrid cries of death and torture, ‘Sorowitsch’ is whisked away to a secret barrack where he finds a complex counterfeiting operation in full flight. In order to survive he agrees to help the Nazi’s to counterfeit the English pound sterling and even the US dollar.
Being based on a true story from the Second World War it intrigued me to find out that “Operation Bernhard” (The Nazi Counterfeiting Operation) is historically the largest counterfeiting operation in history, having generated over 130 million pound sterling. The original plan of the Nazi’s was to destroy the English economy by flooding it with more cash. Therefore devaluing the Pound Sterling and wreaking havoc on the English war effort’s finances. However as the Nazi’s began to realise how accurate Sorowitsch’s counterfeits notes were, they altered their plan to use their newly found wealth to fund their war own war efforts.
Not wanting to spoil the journey that unfolds within this film, it is right to point out that this film shows in a realistic manner, the horror of the Nazi concentration camps and the deeply rooted desire to survive that lives in the heart of man. At one stage Sorowitsch tells another prisoner that if you give up the fight to survive, then the Nazi’s have already won. From a cinematic point of view this is no new premise to us. We saw it in “The Pianist” and also in “Schindler’s List”, however in this film we see several men utilising their seemingly hopeless position to affect the war in both positive and negative ways. By creating the counterfeit Pound Sterling they had created a revenue stream that would fund the ongoing Nazi campaign, however installing the successful creation of the US dollar they managed to aid in slowing down the Nazi’s in many ways. Knowing that to be caught in the process of Sabotage would mean certain death.
I think that blew me away in the film was the stunning and yet darkly muddy style of the cinematography. It felt despairing and hopeless as we see the horrid conditions that people are forced to live within. But amongst that backdrop of pain and suffering, we see glimpses of hope and a hint of the true character of humankind. Stefan Ruzowitzky, has not only done an awesome job in directing this masterpiece historical film but also wrote some wonderful dialogue that helps to put the audience right there in the heart of the story as is unfolds and envelopes you. Of course just as a good director can bring out the best in the his actors, it always helps to have a great canvas to paint on. The performances of all the cast were powerfully engaging. Two of the main characters, Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) and Adolf Burger (August Deihl) portrayed the pure gut-wrenching emotion of the situation to perfection.
A deeply moving film, that needs to be seen.
Reviewed by: Jon E Clist.
Rating: R13 – Violence, content may disturb.
Duration: 98 mins.
Genre: Drama, War.
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky.
Actors: Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Dolores Chaplin, August Zirner, Marie Bäumer.
Release Date: Now Showing.