Director – Stefan Ruzowitzky

Writer – Stefan Ruzowitzky

Starring – Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Martin Brambach, August Zirner

Review:

To be awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film is a respectable thing indeed. And although there were a few others released in 2007 which deserved such an accolade more than this one (most notably 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), The Counterfeiters is none the less a stellar piece of cinema that is worthy of the much sought after award it managed to pick up.

Based on a true story, The Counterfeiters tells the story of Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch who is the dubbed “king of counterfeiters”. One day, in 1936, Sally is unfortunately caught and put into a concentration camp by the Nazis. Shortly after arriving he and a group of other similarly skilled men within the camp are forced by the Nazis to forge money for them.

What is, perhaps, most impressive about The Counterfeiters is the startling realism that it manages to convey. Everything is very dirty and gritty looking, from the clothes the prisoners where to the conditions surrounding them. The cinematography captures some sort of feeling of what it was like on a purely humanistic experience level of what it was like for these men. The film perfectly grasps not only the personal journeys Sally and the other prisoners have to go through but also the gravity of World War II in general. It is both an extremely personal film and one that deals with the bigger picture of the war and what it meant for so many people.

The film also captures the time period in which it’s set. Out with capturing the trials and tribulations of life inside a concentration camp it also grasps the essence of 1940’s Germany, with an amazing attention to detail in every area. As a result of both the accurate conveying of the time period and the gravity of the story the film tells it is, at times, fairly depressing stuff and thus isn’t necessarily an entertaining piece of cinema. But the story the film is dealing with is itself a depressing one and I say the truer the film can stay to the real life events the better and if that means it’s depressing then so be it.

Contrasting the very bleak edge the film has for the most part, it also has a strange comedic slant to it which surprisingly works very well in the films favour. It’s mostly down to the light-hearted, French-style score that it’s weirdly upbeat at times and also because of darkly funny moments involving the interaction between the prisoners. This provides some relief from the overall depressing mood of the film and I sense that without this element it may have been too depressing to take, just maybe.

Throughout the film there are a few very effective techniques employed, mostly regarding how the film puts across certain moments of fear, shock, comedy and sadness. The most notable of these techniques is the sudden zooming of the camera whenever emphasis is being put onto a certain person or object. It’s not the easiest thing to explain in simple words and without seeing it but I guess the simplest way would be to imagine the camera instead of just cutting straight away to a close-up (the most common technique) but it actually shows you it zooming all the way into it. This, and many other techniques, all make for an interesting viewing experience out with the story itself.

For most this film will convey information that is new and unknown. The situations within the film I certainly haven’t seen before and by the end I learned a lot I didn’t know before. So not only is this a compelling piece of filmmaking but also an exercise in information to anyone, like myself, who isn’t overly familiar with this specific storyline of WW2.

Despite the fact that we learn of the main characters’ fate within the first ten minutes of the film, and his story being told in flashback form, we still very much care what happens to him during his time beforehand at the concentration camp. By the middle of the film I even forgot that we had learned the outcome of his story, something which was a result how compelling and interesting his story actually was. Much of my interest was kept by the performances, specifically that of lead actor Karl Markovics. He is both a charming and crafty fellow (a criminal, let us not forget) but at the same time we feel a great amount of sympathy and admiration for him, which only increases as the film goes on. The film’s seemingly straightforward opening ten minutes by the end, once we come back to it after the story of the concentration camp has concluded, seems to resonate a thousand times more.

The Counterfeiters moves at a brisk pace and has a short runtime which, coupled with a slight edge of comedy, prevents it from being the sever depression inducing film it easily could have been. But at the same time it’s not the most fun of watches to say the least, and depressing it is fairly often. Excellent performances, a general sense of gritty realism and a satisfying ending make this an absolute must see.