Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Counterfeiters

The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher, Stefan Ruzowitzky, Austria/Germany, 2007)

If winning the Best Foreign Film Oscar is anything to go by, this should be a popular film. It recently closed the German Film Festival and has a theatrical release this week. It’s yet another film that depicts Germany’s willingness to confront its Nazi past, and does it in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. I found it OK, but nothing special.

The film is about Jews incarcerated in WWII concentration camps with criminal and commercial talents being exploited by the Nazis. The operation (and a historically factually one) was to counterfeit UK and US currency to both fund the German war effort and to undermine the economies of the enemy. This placed the participants in a dilemma. Does one collaborate in order to survive (in relative comfort) knowing you’re assisting your oppressors, do you refuse (meaning certain death) or do you secretly sabotage the project? These options and the moral implications are explored in the film.

Saloman (Sally) is a Jewish career criminal, and prior to WWII is incarcerated for various offences. With the rise of Nazism and deportment to concentration camps, Sally does whatever it takes to stay alive. At first, he is in demand as a portrait artist, but later is seconded to the ambitious Nazi operation to destroy its enemies by economic means.

The film is based on a true story and is an interesting enough premise. It just didn’t work for me, mainly because the director doesn’t trust his audience. There is little subtlety, and the film relies on too many contrasts. For example, the film opens with Sally a free man, using exaggeratedly warm colours and as soon as he is incarcerated, the colours move to the opposite end of the spectrum.

The cinematographer uses hand-held camera with jerky movements, clumsy zoom, etc, yet the visuals are highly stylised (and look great, mind you), yet don’t match the cinema verite camera effect.

While there is a certain dramatic tension during most of the film that many will enjoy, I found the ending lacked adequate dramatic build-up. It was pretty much an anti-climax. I’m sure many audiences will come out raving about The Counterfeiters, and its Oscar win can only help it, but it left me cold.


Filmnut said...

I haven't seen the film but surprised to see both Jake Wilson from The Age and Leigh Paatsch from the Herald-Sun in Melbourne giving it 4.5 stars.

Paul Martin said...

Filmnut, I think you're mistaken about Jake Wilson (I nearly fell off my seat when you suggested it was him). Jim Schembri gave the film 4.5 stars, and I completely disagree with his assessment. I don't usually read Leigh Paatsch's reviews, but from what I've perceived, he often rates films similar to Jim Schembri.

I was a little surprised at the relatively low scores At The Movies gave the film. I thought this was something they'd like a lot.