To watch this movie is to experience the grimness, little hope and bleak reality of Nazi Germany. Based on a true story, it details the greatest counterfeiting operation ever. Imagine it, so much perfectly replicated money that it could bring down an economy or two. That was the goal of Operation Bernhard, a Nazi SS idea to counterfeit the British pound and US dollar in an attempt to sabotage the Allied economies and win WWII.
(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)
Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) is a counterfeiter, ladies man and artist in mid-1930s. He's also a Russian Jew in Germany. On the eve he plans to leave town, he gets caught up forging an Argentinean passport for a female caller. They end up in bed and in the morning, he's busted. He spends time in prison before being moved to a concentration camp. There Sally improvises ways to survive. With his sketching and painting skills, he becomes an artist for the Nazis, creating portraits of them and their families. Five years later as he's working on a huge mural, he learns he's being moved to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
This alarms him as he's been able to live better than most prisoners. On the train ride, he is transported in the same cart as Kolya, a young Russian man who's been badly beaten and sits like an animal in the corner. Sally offers Kolya his soup. Kolya slurps the soup almost without breathing and they forge a friendship.
Once the men selected for Operation Bernhard (for their skills in printing, counterfeiting, finance, etc.) realize how good they have it compared to the general population, they're relieved to be on this detail. As long as they are working toward the goal, they're spared. But, do they follow through with the task and help fund genocide or do they sabotage and risk being killed? This quandary is the basis of the relationship that develops between Sally and Adolph Burger (August Diehl).
The relationship between Sally and Friedrich Herzog (Devid Striesow) is gripping. Sally's protagonist to Herzog's antagonist engage in chess match rapport. Herzog needs Sally and believes himself above the Nazis, that he treats these men, prisoners, better than other prisoners are treated but they are still captive and fearful of their lives. Sally must cultivate the relationship to both stay alive and keep his men alive.
The fear, the hunger and the despair are exhibited in the way the men in the camp inhale their food, the way they tremble when men in power are around, the way they touch the bedsheets...it's palpable. For examining a dark period in the history of the world, this movie possesses great energy, is beautifully filmed and even better acted. The very deserving Counterfeiters won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. See it!
Themes: Nazi war crimes, concentration camps, survival, counterfeiting, sabotage
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Minutes: 98 minutes