Film review – The Counterfeiters (2007)

Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch is an opportunistic document forger living a decadent lifestyle in pre-war Berlin until he is arrested and sent to a concentration camp. In the camp Sally is recruited to work with other criminals, printing professionals and bankers – all fellow prisoners – to undermine the Allied economies by counterfeiting the pound and the dollar.

This extraordinary story is based on the memoirs of fellow prisoner and Communist sympathiser Adolf Burger, whose attempts to sabotage the counterfeiting operation creates the moral dilemma the prisoners face. To what degree should they assist the Nazi war effort in order to save their own lives? Their burden of choice is part of what makes The Counterfeiters so powerful.

Writer/director Stefan Ruzowitzky, who previously made the Anatomy horror films, does not shy away from the brutality of the concentration camps but nor does he revel in their nastiness. His low-key direction allows the film to focus on the relationships between the counterfeiters so that their friendships provide the film with its emotional core. This Austrian winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars is one of the most compelling films to have been made about the Holocaust.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 303, 2008

© Thomas Caldwell, 2008