Follows the dark tale of Salomon Sorowitsch, a Jewish concentration camp prisoner who saves his own skin – and betters his lot – by working as a crack counterfeiter for the Nazis.

1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 14 Apr 2021 - 10:53 AM
Elegantly shot and constructed, with a fine central performance by Karl Markovics, The Counterfeiters entertains while also asking big, divisive moral questions, and is a well deserved Oscar winner.

'You Jews. Tricks and fakeries. It’s what you’re good at." Stefan Ruzowitzky’s The Counterfeiters is not for the faint of heart. Austria’s Oscar winning war-thriller has an unwavering devotion to a clear voice, which excites and disgusts in equal measure. Shortly after WW2 on the beach at Monte Carlo, Salomon Sorowitsch (a screen-grabbing Karl Markovics) is about to spend up large. The next ninety minutes explores how a Jewish criminal and concentration-camp inmate wound up here with a case full of cash. The description 'fascinating" undersells the story.

Operation Bernhard was a Nazi scheme to ruin the economies of Britain and the US with a flood of counterfeit currency. They needed a good forger, and in Jewish prisoner 'Sally" Sorowitsch they had 'the most charming scoundrel in Germany". Under Sturmbannführer Herzog’s (Devid Striesow) watchful eye, Sal and a group of erstwhile printers were seconded to do the dirty work. So good was their labour – the largest counterfeiting operation in history – that they were rewarded for duping the Bank Of England with a ping-pong table. 'One adapts or dies," explains Sal to a principled inmate, disgusted that Jews were aiding the Nazi war.

An overwhelming claustrophobia surrounds writer/director Ruzowitzky’s elegant script and opulent shoot. The effect is truly powerful, as he examines an ocean of guilt through which Sally must navigate – for helping the Nazis, for his privileged position, for being alive. It’s a heady brew that challenges divisive morality and the ambiguity of survival. It even manages to shock – now a rare quality in the well-mined theatre of war films. Anchored by Markovics’ wiry, angular performance, and an insistent tango score that gets to the bones of the film, The Counterfeiters ranks among the greats.

Filmink 4.5/5



Watch 'The Counterfeiters'

Sunday 25 April, 8:30pm on SBS World Movies (Streaming after at SBS On Demand)
Monday 26 April, 2:30am & 11:30pm on SBS World Movies

Germany, 2008
Genre: Drama, Crime, War
Language: German
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Starring: August Diehl, Karl Markovics, Devid Striesow

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