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July 28, 2008 | by  | in Film |
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The Counterfeiters (Die Falscher)

Directed by Stefan Ruzowitsky

How do you justify doing open dealings with men who are slaughtering your comrades on a daily basis? That’s the question at the heart of The Counterfeiters, last year’s winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and it’s one that our protagonist Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch is faced with time and time again, to which he is initially happy to give the coldhearted response, “Adapt or die.” Although Sally is generally portrayed to be a spineless bastard for the most part of the film, it is worth wondering how much we would be prepared to do in the face of such unspeakable evil, and in Sally’s position – lone Jew versus Nazi commandants – the answer more than likely comes up as being not a hell of a lot.

The Counterfeiters centres around the true story of Sally’s experiences in a Nazi prison camp during WWII, as he is arrested by the German fraud department for various passport and currency forgeries. His skills are put to use by the Nazis, who plan to create exact forgeries of the British pound and American dollar in order to topple the economies of these respective countries, making a swift German victory all the easier.

Based on the book by fellow inmate Adolf Burger, the film’s characters are each given some level of depth as their individual reactions to the main question at the heart of the film are explored. Perhaps the only exception is that of Burger himself, as he is represented here as a rather onedimensional self-sacrificing and heroic figure, whilst most other main characters are portrayed as being motivated on the most part by selfishness and basic survival skills. Equally concerning is the haste in which the protagonist develops a sudden selfless side, abandoning his aforementioned mantra in one scene in which he refuses to report Burger, who has been deliberately hindering progress with the forgery projects, even though it could have devastating effects on his own life.

The film thankfully does not dwell too much on the brutality exhibited to the other Jews in the prison camps, which probably helps us to forget how de-sensitised we are to it these days anyway after the likes of Schindler’s List and The Pianist. The film’s main power comes from the realisation that, as we are cheering on the Nazi’s counterfeiting project’s successes, we are, in fact, cheering on the Nazi war effort, as the director not-so-subtly reminds us in one scene involving the project’s success in forging the British pound. Equally as haunting, and more subtly handled, are the final few scenes in which we dwell on Sally’s days after the war, living it up in the casinos and hotel rooms of Monte Carlo – although the Nazi war effort itself has failed, his integrity and loyalty toward his own Jewish people has been forever sacrificed, all due to the basic survival nature that is true of all of us.

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