THE COUNTERFEITERS (Die Falscher, 2007, Stefan Ruzowitzky)
The true story of the largest counterfeiting operation in history, this film is my kind of Nazi movie. When trying to present a story based on WWII and Nazi actions, I find that films tend to treat all Nazis as evil and all victims as saints. THE COUNTERFEITERS neatly avoids this by giving us a hero who is a known criminal. A man who is not even trusted in the confines of a concentration camp.
Salomon Sorowitsch, was the King of Counterfeiters, a master criminal, who on the very eve of his departure from Germany in the late 1930's, is seduced into fashioning a false passport for a lovely Jewish lady. The following morning, they are discovered in bed by the police and Sol is sent to prison. Five years later, he is sent to a concentration camp where he uses his gift as an artist to secure better food and privileges painting portraits of the officers and their families.
Suddenly he is taken from Mauthausen to Sachsenhausen, where he is to be part of the Nazi scheme to undo the British and American economy by producing counterfeit British pounds and American dollars. The officer who arrested him in Berlin is now an SS Officer in charge of this project. This special team is treated well. Given clothing rather than prison stripes, although they soon learn that these clothes have come from other prisoners in the camps. They are given regular showers. They are well fed, have their own doctor, comfortable beds and any necessary tool at their disposal. They are isolated from the regular camp and the sounds of suffering outside of their world is muted by the music they are allowed to listen to.
All of this suits Sali just fine. He's doing a job, just like any job. He's keeping himself alive. He's surviving. And along the way, he's saving other lives through small acts, small measures, small gestures. And in these small ways, Sali's real humanity is revealed.
Karl Markovics portrayal of Sali is pitch perfect. His face, his eyes, his gestures tell more about the character than a dozen lines of dialog might.
The cinematography is beautiful. The characters in the film always talk about color, but the world in which they live is gray and drab and completely colorless. So a green dollar, a pink watermark, a red and yellow pack of cigarettes grabs the eye and stands out beautifully. And the blood. Always the blood.
Director Ruzowitzky has created a gem of a picture, filled with all the moral questions we all like to think we would answer correctly, and reminding us how hard it is to hold on to who we are when everything around us would tear us apart. And the final image is one I will carry for a long, long time.