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Sunday, 25 May 2008

The Counterfeiters

The phrase 'total war' means exactly that: war fought on every level with the aim of forcing the other side to surrender. And one of the more dangerous theatres of war is the economic one. After all, without money to buy equipment and pay troops it's extremely difficult to keep a war going. So while much of the (deservedly) positive press about The Counterfeiters has centered around its fresh take on the horrors of the Holocaust, it's also an absorbing look at a battlefront many viewers would never consider as a theatre of war. Based on a real account by a Holocaust survivor, this explores the secret currency counterfeiting unit established by the Nazis during World War II and the Jewish prisoners selected to work in this unit re-creating first the British Pound and then the US Dollar. Karl Markovics plays the role of the expert forger (and Jew) in pre-war Berlin who ends up in a concentration camp, only to be chosen for his special skills to work in the pampered unit where the horrors of the death camp are kept at bay - so long as they get results. The film's central issue - is it better to survive, even if it involves helping an evil regime, than die with your morals intact - is never far from the film's surface (when the prisoners arrive at the unit they're given civilian clothes clearly taken from inmates the Germans have killed), and it's re-enforced by a strong performance from August Diehl's performance as a Jewish printing expert who prefers death to supporting the Nazi regime even when his sabotage threatens all their lives. Moral questions aside, it's also a gripping thriller the equal of anything out of Hollywood and a well-constructed character study. With this year's blockbuster films looming on the horizon, it'd be a shame if a film as good as this one was left buried in their wake.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #428)