January 17, 2008

The Counterfeiters

The Counterfeiters SynopsisThe true story of Salomon Sorowitsch, counterfeiter extraordinaire and bohemian. After getting arrested in a German concentration camp in 1944, he agrees to help the Nazis in an organized counterfeit operation set up to help finance the war effort. It was the biggest counterfeit money scam of all times. Over 130 million pound sterling were printed, under conditions that couldn’t have been more tragic or spectacular. During the last years of the war, as the German Reich saw that the end was near, the authorities decided to produce their own banknotes in the currencies of their major war enemies. They hoped to use the duds to flood the enemy economy and fill the empty war coffers. At the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, two barracks were separated from the rest of the camp and the outside world, and transformed into a fully equipped counterfeiters workshop. “Operation Bernhard” was born. Prisoners were brought to Sachsenhausen from other camps to implement the plan: professional printers, fastidious bank officials and simple craftsmen all became members of the top-secret counterfeiter commando. They had the choice: if they cooperated with the enemy, they had a chance to survive, as first-class prisoners in a “golden cage” with enough to eat and a bed to sleep in. If they sabotaged the operation, a sure death awaited them. For THE COUNTERFEITERS, it was not only a question of saving their own lives, but also about saving their conscience as well...

The Story

It is shortly after the end of the war. A man sits on the beach in glamorous Monte Carlo, the gambler's paradise. It is Salomon Sorowitsch, 45, who wears a shabby, threadbare suit, but carries a suitcase full of money. We can see a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm.

Flashback: Berlin, 1936. Sorowitsch, the King of Counterfeiters, moves in a world of swindlers, gigolos and easy women. For him, life is a game for which you need money - and the money he needs, he prints himself. With a solid portion of pragmatism and an even greater portion of creativity, he manages to stay on the bright - and safe - side of life. But perhaps it only seems like it...

For the smile of the lovely Aglaia keeps him in Berlin one night too many. The next morning he is arrested by Inspector Herzog. Just like many other "professional criminals," Sorowitsch is sent off to a concentration camp. He soon realizes that Mauthausen is not a normal prison. There, prisoners are systematically killed. Relying on his survival instinct and his artistic skills, Sorowitsch becomes the personal artist of the SS. Then he is transferred to Sachsenhausen, where he is welcomed by an "old acquaintance": Herzog, who has now been promoted and heads a special secret commando.

In two barracks rigorously separated from the rest of the camp, counterfeit money is to be produced on a grand scale. The Nazis need cash! Considering the situation in the camp, the conditions in the "Golden Cage" are nearly heavenly: clean, well-organized workshops with background music, soft beds, good food... Herzog wants to motivate his men with good treatment and get the maximum performance out of his hand-picked specialists.

One thing is clear, however: if the work does not lead to success, the workers will be sent to the gas chamber. "What a shame that would be!", says Herzog with a twinkle in his eye. Sorowitsch and his fellow inmates experience the horrors of the concentration camp only indirectly, such as when they find the name cards of the Jews who have been gassed in the nice suits they are allowed to wear. And from behind the wooden planks, they hear the screams of the tortured. Sorowitsch does what he always does: he looks away when nothing can be changed.

Thanks to his skill, he actually does succeed in producing perfect pound notes. Herzog is very satisfied and gives his counterfeiters a reward: a ping-pong table! We finance the Nazi's war with our fake money," hisses Sorowitsch's friend Burger, and begins to sabotage their work. Soon, idealism clashes with pragmatism.

On one side is Sorowitsch with his policy of small, opportune steps, of survival one day at a time, also in order to obtain life-saving medicine for fellow prisoner Kolya, who is suffering from tuberculosis. On the other side is Burger with his constant sabotaging and his secret plans for revolt. When Kolya is killed by a guard with a shot to the head, Sorowitsch realizes that his attempt to come to terms with evil has failed. The end of the war saves the lives of the imprisoned counterfeiters.

Overnight, the Nazis flee from the concentration camp. The gate to freedom is open - but it leaves the prisoners of the printing shop past the nightmare of the rest of the camp. The other survivors can hardly grasp that these well-dressed, well-fed people are fellow prisoners.

Sorowitsch is finally forced to look, even though - or perhaps precisely because - everything is over. What he sees are starving, tortured victims who are barely recognizable as human beings, and who wander aimlessly about mountains of corpses.

Monte Carlo. Sorowitsch takes his place at the game table one last time. He intentionally loses his entire counterfeit money and goes to sit on the beach, as at the beginning. "You 'ad ze bad luck?", asks his high-class French callgirl. And Sorowitsch smiles.

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Release Date: February 22, 2008
Genre: Foreign
Running Time: 99 min.
Distributor(s): Sony Pictures Classics
Tagline: It takes a clever man to make money, it takes a genius to stay alive
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, brief sexuality/nudity and language.

Stefan Ruzowitsky

Stefan Ruzowitsky - Screenplay (adaptation)
Adolf Burger - Source Material (from book: "Des Teufels Werkstatt")

Josef Aichholzer - Producer
Babette Schroder - Producer

Movie Casts:
Karl Markovics - Salomon Sorowitsch
August Diehl - Adolf Burger
Devid Striesow - Sturmbannführer Friedrich Herzog
Martin Brambach - Hauptscharführer Holst
August Zirner - Dr. Klinger
Veit Stübner - Atze
Sebastian Urzendowsky - Kolya Karloff
Andreas Schmidt - Zilinski
Tilo Prückner - Dr. Viktor Hahn
Lenn Kudrjawizki - Loszek
Norman Stoffregen - Abramovic
Bernd Raucamp - KZ-Insasse Dusche
Gode Benedix - 1. KZ-Insasse
Oliver Kanter - 2. KZ-Insasse
Dirk Prinz - SS-Wache

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