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The Counterfeiters
cast: Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Devid Striesow, and Martin Brambach

director: Stefan Ruzowitsky

98 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Sally Sorowitsch is the best counterfeiter in the business. Charming, urbane, talented, and ruthlessly dedicated to self-preservation, Sally's luck finally runs out when he's arrested for forging the US dollar. Put into the nascent concentration camp programme, he survives by demonstrating his artistic skills, until he finds himself face to face, once again, with the policeman who arrested him, now head of Sachsenhausen concentration camp. There, Sarowitsch is recruited into the largest forgery operation of the war, part of a team of Jewish counterfeiters, printers and bankers who are tasked with forging the pound and the dollar in vast quantities. If they fail, they'll be killed and the moment they succeed they'll cease to be useful. If they fight, they die. If they give in, they die. But Sorowitsch knows all the angles...

Simply put, The Counterfeiters is a triumph, a quietly angry film that never loses sight of the human cost of the conflict it discusses. From the moment Sally first arrives at Sachsenhausen and is handed clothes that have been taken from a dead inmate to the quiet, fierce triumph of the final scenes, this is a film that never loses sight of the horrific, personal costs of the Second World War and how the smallest acts can save us or damn us. The different ways Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) and Burger (August Diehl) approach this situation makes for incredibly tense and morally complex viewing, as Sorowitsch's refusal to rock the boat, combined with his talent, leads the project far closer to success than it should be.

Whilst he's concerned with survival, Burger, who survived Auschwitz through sheer luck and is riddled with guilt is desperate to fight back any way he can. Sorowitsch's inaction keeps him safe, Burger's inaction places him in danger and the contrast and conflict between the men, to say nothing of their gradual drift to each other's perspective, is nothing short of extraordinary. It's thrown into stark relief by the care and attention that Sorowitsch gives to Kolya (Sebastian Urzendowsky), an ailing Russian inmate, and his reaction to Kolya's eventual fate a sudden, explosive display of emotion from a man who has previously been positively cold. All these men turn in magnificent, subtle, nuanced performances here, and Striesow and Brambach as the Camp Commander and senior guard respectively are just as good. There's a banality to their evil, backed by palpable self-delusion on Striesow's part that makes them, whilst certainly not pitiable, at least complex and well rounded. Together, all five actors create performances that are intelligent, subtle, nuanced and affecting, and the critical acclaim the film has enjoyed is, for once, completely deserved.

Stefan Ruzowitsky's intelligent, restrained direction is the final element of a near perfect film. Dark, intelligent, driven, and completely human, this is one of the finest movies of the last five years and one anyone with an interest in good films should seek out.

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