Tuesday, August 23, 2016

2007 Winner, The Counterfeiters

The Counterfeiters

Director:        Stefan Ruzowitzky
Distributed by:  Filmladen/Universum Film
Released:  March 2007
County:  Austria/Germany

The concept of the “antihero” has always appealed to me.  Today, you can’t turn on the TV without finding a show that has one to root for—think Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper, Tywin Lannister.  And so many great films have had us hoping for the best for the “bad” guys, like Al Pacino in The Godfather and William Holden in Stalag 17.  These protagonists are immoral, live only for themselves, and will generally disregard anyone else’s interests.  You know, like millennials.  (JK, Millennials!).

Javert, Les Miserables
But one thing most good antiheroes have is that one speck of decency that makes them do the right thing every once in a while, maybe even in a spectacular way.  After all, Michael Corleone loved his kids and Sefton helped to catch the real mole in Stalag 17.  In The Counterfeiters, Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch is that man.  As you can probably guess from the title, Salomon likes to make fake money.  He is the best in the business—his phony currency looks, feels, and even smells like the real thing—no Monopoly guys on his fake bills, that’s for sure.  And Salomon is living large because of it.  But Sally is a Jew, and one ought not be a Jew in 1930’s Germany.  He gets caught by a zealous Nazi Javert-type who has it in for him and is sent off to the nearest local concentration camp.

Bill Holden as Sgt. Sefton, Stalag 17: The Classic Anti-hero
Sally is able to get special treatment because he is a darn good artist—a skill he had to have as a counterfeiter.  Soon he is selling portraits for better food, and is living just a little better than the rest of the inmates.  Some Nazis somewhere hear that Sally is really good at making the fake German marks—they wonder, could he do it with British pounds?  They figure if you could flood Britannia with fake bills, you could wreak all sorts of havoc with the English economy.  Sally is just guy they need to pull it off.

So Sally and some of his chums start cranking out the fake bills for the Nazis.  Sally is a perfectionist and is damn proud of his craft, so it doesn’t take long for him to lose his priorities.  Before long, he is like Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai, obsessing over the craft and forgetting who the real enemy is.

Nick Nolte, film version of Mother Night
In his novel Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”  As a counterfeiter extraordinaire, Sally has to figure out who he is:  Is he a counterfeiter who happens to be Jewish, working for the Nazis to get treated better; or is he a Jewish guy who happens to be a counterfeiter, pretending  he is helping the Nazis but really looking for a way to sabotage his enemy?  And will he show that speck of decency that makes anti-heroes so fun to root for?   

Like most Holocaust-related films, this movie is mostly bleak in tone.  But the actor who plays Saloman, Karl Markovics, brings a lightness and a self-assuredness that makes him easy to root for, kind of like Holden in Stalag 17.  As a counterfeiting anti-hero, he is the real deal.

The Title:  Die Fälscher.  Die makes the article "the" plural; this isn't about a threat against some guy named Herr Falscher.

The Culture:  A decent, if unimportant culturally, addition to the Holocaust-related cannon.

Agenda Danger:  Nazis are bad.  But you knew that.

Best Picture that year:   No Country for Old Men

Rating:  As a non-war war movie, this one hits the mark.  The real kind.

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