Lowdown: Dilemmas of the highest caliber in a concentration camp.
The Counterfeiters is a film belonging to a high prestige group of a very small membership: the high quality, intense holocaust film that is inspired by true events. As far as my notes recall, the group used to contain Schindler's List and The Pianist alone; now it has a third member.
The plot revolves around a German guy called Sorowitsch, who just happens to be a Jew and also be a master counterfeiter; any set of papers you want, Sorowitsch will arrange for you. That is, until the day he's caught by German police. With the way things are going in Nazi Germany he quickly finds himself at a concentration camp, but he is not the one to disappear there; Sorowitsch knows how to handle himself with the Kapo (the notorious criminals who ran the concentration camps for the Nazis). He can manage himself with the Nazis, too, if that is what it takes to survive.
The years goes by and the war is close to its end. The Nazis have a special plan for Sorowitsch: they get him to a special made facility inside a concentration camp and "spoil" him and a group of other prisoners with such goodies as beds with mattresses. In return, the Nazis want him to forge British Pounds and American Dollars so they can cripple their enemies economies before they are beaten in the battlefield.
Being that Sorowitsch is good at what he does he quickly delivers on the British Pound. But when the aim is set to the Dollar dilemmas start: how are the prisoners best serving their cause? Is it by prolonging their own lives and delivering for the Nazis, at the risk of becoming expandable when the goods are delivered? Or is it by making life as hard as possible for the Nazis so that their cunning plans do not materialize and they lose the war? Both sides are very well presented in the film and the conflicts between the two sides are at the film's core. Indeed, it's easy for us to stand here and be noble about the right thing to do in such a situation, but I doubt any of us would choose anything but self preservation when the alternative is so clear. In between the two opposing groups we have Sorowitsch, trying to pull the rope from both ends.
This German speaking film is relatively short at just a bit more than an hour and a half, but it delivers and delivers well. There are but a rare few films that deliver their message and their dilemmas better than The Counterfeiters, if anything because of the extreme circumstances of the holacaust enable the discussion of cutting edge motifs.
Best scene: I liked the way in which the core dilemma is explored. In particular, I liked the Jewish banker who works in Sorowitsch's team of counterfeiters. The guy keeps on making sure everyone knows he is decent and that he's only doing the counterfeiting because he's forced to; he even says it to the Nazis at the risk of death, only because his image of himself as a human being is more important to him than his life. In the circumstances where all that is humane is meant to be erased, maintaining humanity becomes the most important thing.
Sound quality: Although only a stereo soundtrack is supplied on the DVD, the surround envelopment provided through matrix encoding on my receiver made it sound better than many 5.1 releases.
Overall: An important film of 4 plus stars out of 5.