Monday, March 9, 2009

The Counterfeiters

The Holocaust is such an extremely covered that it seems as if the films about it are being produced by the dozen. This year, Best Live Action Short was awarded to "Toyland," a Holocaust film with a slight twist over Reto Caffi's brilliant "On the Line." One year before, Stefan Ruzowitzky made this film, rewarded by the Academy in the Best Foreign Film category. It's adapted from a memoir by Adolf Burger called "The Devil's Workshop," and it's about the paradox of counterfeiting money for the Nazis in order to survive. Working off of a powerful subject, Ruzowitzy opts to monitor the action with zooms, quick cuts, and other fancier camerawork instead of looking at his subjects from afar. This is very atypical for a Holocaust retelling, and the signature "watching" has become synonymous with this. But the real miracle of the film is Karl Markovics ever expressive face, aided somewhat by makeup, but still devastating. He's the main focus of the film, as Sally Sorowitsch, famous counterfeiter renowned for his illegal dealings on the underground circuit. But soon, he is arrested and put straight into a concentration camp. He begins forced laboring, but when the guards pick up his natural talent of drawing and stenciling, they assign him to self-portraits, and, eventually, his forte, making fake currency. August Diehl also turns in a good performance as the man who wrote the book, a rebellious, torn up printer, agonized at the measures he must go to stay alive. At one point, say a few years back, maybe more, this film could have concocted something new. Its challenge is overcoming the cliches of the genre, and in some ways it dodges them, but there are definitely the "obligatory" shots of men, kneeling, being murdered. I guess after the stunning force of Spielberg's classic, nothing could quite compare. The reason: "The Counterfeiters," despite its circular plot structure that takes you eventually out of the camps, can't really escape being a Holocaust film, and at this point, we really need more than a slight variation on the theme. B+

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