Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Counterfeiters

The Counterfeiters (Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2008) [6]

When I was in film school, one of my professors was the noted experimental filmmaker Martin Arnold, who was from Austria. He once told a story that Austrian feature filmmaking was one of the most incompetent and awful bodies of cinema in the world. That really has nothing to do with The Counterfeiters but the thought ran through my mind the entire time watching this and perhaps clouding my judgement about this. After all, this was the first Austrian film to win a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, which says something about Arnold's theory. Ruzowitzky creates a fast-paced, tightly constructed film that unfortunately, doesn't do anything film wise or plot wise to make it rise above "been there, seen that" material in regards to Holocaust material. The only difference here is the story, based on Operation Bernhard, a operation by the Nazis using Jewish prisoners to counterfeit British and American currency to help fund their last ditch efforts at the end of WWII. The film is filtered through the character of Sally (Karl Markovics), a master counterfeiter and Jew brought to the operation to be the quality control man. Once the Sally the character is established, a lot of what happens next is to be expected. We get the moral quandaries of the ones working on the project, spared by their skills while others are dying among them. There's the archetypal martyr character, determined to let principle stand above all else. There's also the ambiguous nature of the SS man in charge of the camp (played with pitch perfect smarm and sleaze by Devid Striesow), more concerned with his own personal well-being than any ideology. While it all makes for an intriguing story, the film still falls short in being great. Ruzowitzky handles the material enough to make it work, but his direction falls into too may telegraphed shots and scenes. The film never raises itself above the middlebrow standard of films that usually win the Foreign Language Oscar. Despite its taut nature, The Counterfeiters still has a way making me feel less than enthused about it.

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