- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

Countless films have been made about the Holocaust. It’s one of those defining but inexplicable events we go over again and again, hoping finally to understand.

Surprisingly, though, it seems there are still Holocaust stories to be told.

The story of Operation Bernhard, for example, until now was explored only in a BBC miniseries. “The Counterfeiters” (“Die Faelscher”) is the first feature film — and straight drama — to tell the tale of the largest counterfeiting operation in history.

The Austrian film, written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, won the Oscar this year for best foreign-language film. It’s hard not to make a moving film about the Holocaust. Mr. Ruzowitzky, though, also has made a fascinating and fresh one.

“The Counterfeiters” opens in Monte Carlo. The war has just ended and a man, who doesn’t utter a word, pays cash for his hotel room, his new tuxedo and his stacks of gambling chips.

His stoic success catches the eye of the most beautiful woman in the casino. In his room later, they undress, and she sees the number tattooed on his arm. He still doesn’t speak.

The next day, he’s back in the casino, and when he’s offered a bottle of champagne, the image seamlessly changes to a champagne bottle in a bar in 1936 Berlin.

The man, we discover, is Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), “the most charming scoundrel in all Berlin.” He’s a talented artist but prefers to try perfecting the dollar rather than the human form. “Why make money by making art?” he asks. “Earning money by making money is a lot easier.”

He may be charming, but he’s also a criminal, and soon he’s arrested for counterfeiting, sent to jail and, finally, as he’s Jewish, to a concentration camp.

He uses his portraiture talents to ingratiate himself with the German officers, for extra food. The higher-ups have other plans for him, however. He’s sent to a private, top-secret area of Sauchsenhausen, where he’s set to work along with printers, engravers and others to forge the British pound.

“We intend to flood and destroy Britain’s economy,” Sturmbannfuehrer Herzog (Devid Striesow) explains to the captive men he regards as “co-workers.”

It’s a gripping story, deftly acted, and Mr. Ruzowitzky shadows it with just the right amount of moral conflict. Sally declared before the war that Jews were persecuted because they refused to adapt. He certainly does, but he’s challenged by the idealistic Adolf Burger (on whose memoir the movie is based).

Burger (August Diehl) insists on sabotaging the operation, which he believes is financing the Nazi war effort. However, in choosing to make himself a martyr if need be, he endangers the lives of his fellow captives. It’s a dilemma with no easy answers, and to his great credit, Mr. Ruzowitzky doesn’t offer any.

***1/2

TITLE: “The Counterfeiters” (“Die Faelscher”)

RATING: R (Some strong violence, brief sexuality/nudity and language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky based on the memoir by Adolf Burger (in German with English subtitles)

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thecounterfeiters.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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