Movie Monday: The Counterfeiters (2007)

counterfeitersWritten and directed by Stefan Ruzitowsky, The Counterfeiters won an Oscar when it came out back in 2007. The film stars Karl Markovics as Salomon Sorowitsch, a Ukrainian-German counterfeiter who was involved in Aktion Bernhard, a German plan to attack the economies of Britain and the United States by circulating forged banknotes. Printers, engravers and so on were recruited from among the inmates to work on the project and Sorowitsch was one of them; they enjoyed a relatively privileged status, with better food and more humane conditions — essentially the film portrays it as being in prison, which is a significant step up from being in a concentration camp, I guess.

I have less to say about this than I often do about Movie Monday selections; although it is a historical film, and its events seem close (in the usual streamlined, simplified way) to the actual events of the counterfeiting plan, it’s primarily a character piece that looks at the ways people react to being in a concentration camp. Sorowitsch’s fellow inmates range from political radicals to respectable German citizens to hapless victims who’ve blagged their way into a detail they think will be easier for them. Sorowitsch himself is an interesting case — a lifelong criminal, he treats being in a camp like being in jail, with all the rules of jail applying.

Holocaust films often try to find a redemptive or uplifting aspect in the story, but there actually isn’t much of one here, which I like. People cling to whatever they cling to to help them not go crazy in the camp — not survive in the camp, because it’s clear that isn’t up to them. Salomon gets by by being a son of a bitch, but it’s clear that a lot of that is luck; not all sons of bitches survive. I guess he gets a little of his own back at the very end, where he turns the tables on the SS officer who runs the program, Bernhard Kruger, reducing him to the same terrified, humiliated state that the Germans mock the Jews for.

But even then, Kruger is quite an ambiguous character — inmates (including Sorowitsch?) provided testimony that helped him get off without punishment after the war, and he claimed that one of the reasons he started the dollar project was to prevent the inmates who worked for him from being killed. That doesn’t make him a hero, though; the film clearly portrays him as short-sighted, self-interested and motivated largely by self-image. He wants to be liked and to think of himself as a good guy; there’s a brilliant scene in which he gives the inmates a ping-pong table as a reward, and when they’re not impressed with it he’s hurt and embarrassed.

As with all of these things, one wonders about the larger historical context — the forgery plot is presented as something that would have really helped Germany win the war, which seems unlikely. But then if you watch war movies, you’ll discover that there were many many secret German projects, and each one of them would have won the war for Hitler if not for a plucky band of etc., etc. That isn’t the narrative of this film per se, but it does feel like they want to establish that there’s some significance to the story outside of just being this one guy and his experiences.

Anyway, I thought it was good; well-made, atmospheric, well-acted, thoroughly depressing. It’s on Amazon UK at the moment, I believe.

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Movie Monday: The Counterfeiters (2007)

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