"Average" Holocaust films -- if it's not insensitive to refer to them as such -- capture the stark, ever-present misery of life in the camps. But the superior ones plunge deeper into the camps' bitter ironies, into the false comforts that may have actually weakened the inhabitants' resolve toward defiance. And what gets more bitterly ironic than Jewish prisoners who unwittingly fund the Nazi war effort by counterfeiting international currency? The Counterfeiters, which won the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, has many parallels with another Oscar winner from 14 years earlier: Schindler's List. Both feature extraordinary men whose efforts ultimately save numerous lives -- even in roundabout fashion -- but who agonize about what more they could have done. In the case of Salomon Sorowitsch, there's the extra intangible of not knowing how many lives he actually imperiled by initially fulfilling his charge. Historical retrospect makes it easy to condemn these counterfeiters for a complicity apparently motivated by self-preservation, but director Stefan Ruzowitzky's treatment skillfully conveys that these were decent men who made imperfectly human decisions. Ruzowitzky's script captures a delicate cat-and-mouse game between the prisoners and the commandants, who themselves become occasionally conflicted by the human relationships they've unwittingly formed. The details revealed about the craft of counterfeiting, which rarely gets such an incisive spotlight on film, are also fascinating. Benedict Neuenfels overlays everything he shoots with a graininess that makes it difficult to tell when the film was made, concentrating on the era it depicts instead. It may be problematic for some viewers that The Counterfeiters is a work of fiction, whereas most Holocaust films stringently adhere to recorded facts and people who really existed. But the "just hold out long enough" tension of the prison camps is real, as are the core moral issues the story explores.
by Derek Armstrong review