The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher) Review
Before the war, Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) was a wealthy counterfeiter and artist, who lived a luxurious lifestyle. But as a Jew he is arrested and sent to Mauthausen, where he survives by painting portraits of the guards. When Sally is transferred to Sachsenhausen, Sturmbannführer Herzog (David Striesow) recruits him as part of “Operation Bernhard”, an attempt to successfully forge British pound notes and US dollar bills, and to bring down those countries' economies with fake currency. Some of the other prisoners, such as Adolph Burger (August Diehl), are opposed to the idea and resort to delaying tactics and sabotage. But Sally faces a dilemma: if he does not cooperate he will be shot, but the success of Operation Bernhard could change the entire course of the war.
This is a true story: Operation Bernhard remains the largest counterfeiting operation in history. Based on Adolf Burger's book, The Counterfeiters is one of a recent line of German-language films dealing with World War Two, Downfall being another. Stefan Ruzowitzky's film won the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film, the first Austrian film to do so, beating amongst others Katyn and Mongol.
Although there are inevitably fictionalisations – Adolf Burger is the only character given his real name, as he was the only participant still alive and so able to consent to this – the essence of the story is true. There are details which you couldn't easily make up which turn out to be accurate, such as the classical music played while the forgers worked, and the ping-pong table Herzog gives them as a reward. But Ruzowitzky makes sure the realities of the Holocaust are not forgotten. In particular he uses the soundtrack – and the possibilities of multi-channel sound – to keep the audience on edge, with distant gunshots sounding from one or other surround speaker. In one scene he drops the sound out altogether, to particularly intense effect. He also elicits strong performances from his cast.
As World War Two recedes into history, and its participants into old age, we should be reminded of a part of history that should not be forgotten. It's the day to day reality, that death could be a bullet or a spurt of gas away, that gives The Counterfeiters its edge, but ultimately the film works because it's a very good story very well told, with considerable impact.
Metrodome's DVD is dual-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. It begins with trailers for other Metrodome releases,: Assembly, Days of Glory, Sherrybaby and Away from Her. These cannot be skipped, but can be fast-forwarded.
The DVD is transferred in the original ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. For a new film you'd expect a good transfer and you get one, dealing well with the richer palette of the pre- and post-war sequences and with the more desaturated look of the camp scenes. There is some grain, but it looks film-like. Blacks are solid and shadow detail is fine.
The soundtrack defaults to Dolby Digital 2.0 but a 5.1 option is available from the menu, and is the one to select if you can play it. As I mention above, the sound design, making use of the surrounds for directional effects, plays a vital part in this film. The dialogue is in German, but optional English subtitles are available.
The extras begin with a featurette, “The Making of The Counterfeiters” (9:59), which takes a similar form to making-of pieces on other DVDs, except for having a German voiceover. We see extracts from the film, behind-the-scenes footage and an interview with Stefan Ruzowitzky, Karl Markovics and the real Adolf Burger. The latter is also shown giving a presentation.
Interviews follow, with Adolf Burger (9:51), Stefan Ruzowitzky (17:54) and Karl Markovics (10:18). These all take the form of on-screen text questions, followed by video answers. Burger speaks in German and is subtitled, while the latter two answer their questions in English (although they talk in German in the making-of featurette), and discuss how the project came about and their responsibility in telling a true story. Strangely, two separate producers approached Ruzowitzky about a film version of Burger's book within a week of each other. The director introduced them to each other, and the film became a co-production. Burger discusses how he approached the film, quite willing to make changes for the purposes of dramatisation as long as he approved the final screenplay, and also acting as a consultant. In another featurette (19:10), Burger shows us some of the artifacts from the time that he has kept, as well as pointing out on a plan of the Sachsenhausen camp where the key events of the story took place.
Also on the disc are some deleted scenes (running 3:52 in total and presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1) and the effective theatrical trailer (1:31).
9 out of 10
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