Die Fälscher aka The Counterfeiters is one of the most highly acclaimed Austrian/German movies of the last years and got many prizes. It’s a good movie, based on an incredible true story, with great actors and some very thought-provoking elements but…. But what? I am at a loss. Did I not like it? Maybe not but there are many war movies I absolutely don’t like but still think they are great or very good. Why not this one? It does belong to the subcategory of Holocaust/concentration camp movies and as such it is not up to others, maybe that is the reason… I found the story fascinating and the dilemma worthwhile, still….
Solomon “Sally” Sorowitsch, a Russian Jew, lives the good life in Berlin, just before the war. He is the king of the counterfeiters. He has a lot of money that he spends on champagne, women, parties and gambling. The good life ends when Superintendent Friedrich Herzog arrests him. He is sent to the concentration camp Mathausen. Mathausen is a concentration camp just like Auschwitz. Forced-labour, unspeakable conditions, dirt, no food, abuse, mistreatment…When a guard discovers Sally’s talent as an artist, his life changes. He isn’t treated like the others anymore. In exchange for paintings for the Germans he gets privileges. After some time he is transferred to Sachsenhausen where he and a big group of others will live in luxurious barracks. They have been picked by the very same Herzog who arrested Sally. They have all been chosen for particular skills and are ordered to start to forge first the British Pound and then the American Dollar. Sally has no morals, as long as he can save his life and live comfortably he doesn’t care too much how he achieves this goal. But there are others in the group who do not think that way. To forge the currency of the Allies means to help the Nazis. If it wasn’t for a particularly sadistic guard – who knows – maybe Sally’s conscience wouldn’t have been awakened but in the end it is.
When the war is over, Sally knows once more how to make the most out of the situation, and, like before, in the end, being the gambler he is, he loses all.
The movie does ask some interesting questions. Is it justifiable to want to save your own life? Should you sacrifice a few for many others?
Sorowitsch is a fascinating character and his skills are amazing. It is an interesting movie and if I hadn’t felt, that I have to like it, maybe I would have appreciated it more.
I think this type of feeling is not that unusual for sincere lovers of movies. Sometimes you just don’t “get” a movie’s appeal. I have a theory that critics sometimes have a bandwagon effect where they all jump on a movie as the next great thing and none want to rock the boat. Some of these movies are one’s where it would be politically incorrect to be critical of the movie. Perhaps this movie is one of those. It must be hard for a professional critic to give a negative review to a Holocaust movie.
I have ordered the movie and should see it in about a week. I’ll let you know how I feel about it.
I do agree with you but in this case I think it’s really me with the problem and I can’t even say why… Maybe the mix of bohemian/artist and Jew who lands in a concentration camp, maybe it spoils other movies for me… I really think it did deserve the prizes… You will tell me what you think.
Just watched the movie. I can see why you might be torn on it, but it is pretty good and award-worthy. The acting is good, especially the guys who played Sally and Burger. I was surprised to find that it is pretty accurate (there was an Operation Bernhard which counterfeited the pound and dollar using Jewish experts). Even more surprising, Herzog (the amazingly nice S.S. officer in charge) was true to his real life character. The movie does overplay the moral dilemma of survival versus the big picture, but for good cinematic reasons. There may have been some sabotage, but it was not the big issue highlighted in the movie. The movie is based on Burger’s memoirs “The Devil’s Workshop” and he served as technical advisor.
My only disagreement with your review (which is excellent, by the way) is I found that Sally was your typical tough-guy with a heart of gold. (That role was made for Humphrey Bogart!) He saves two inmates at the risk of his own life. This may have actually diluted the conflict between Sally and Burger. Heck, he even protects Burger when he could have greatly increased his and all the others chances of survival, by simply turning him in. I guess I’m saying the movie might have been a masterpiece if it had gone all the way down the road it started on. However, that would have been both historically inaccurate and a bummer for the audience.
[…] Die Fälscher – The Counterfeiters (2007, AU/GE) True story of a famous Jewish counterfeiter who gets caught by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp where he should help forge foreign currency. See my review […]