Arts & Culture

The Counterfeiters: Good, or Just Jewish?

This is a bit of a rhetorical question, since they don’t usually give Oscars to bad movies, but is The Counterfeiters any good? Or, to put it a slightly more opinionated way, is The Counterfeiters Oscar-good, meaning that it’s well-constructed … Read More

By / February 29, 2008

This is a bit of a rhetorical question, since they don’t usually give Oscars to bad movies, but is The Counterfeiters any good? Or, to put it a slightly more opinionated way, is The Counterfeiters Oscar-good, meaning that it’s well-constructed and makes the judges feel nice (like, say, Crash, which I still think was immensely dumb), or is it genuinely worth seeing?

According to both the mainstream press and the Jewish media, it’s the latter. The Counterfeiters tells the story of Sally Sorowitsch, a master forger whose probable death at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp is prevented when the Nazis enlist him to fake British and American money. He clashes with another forger, a leftist named Adolf Burger, who would rather die than help the Third Reich. Which is better, asks the film—to survive through complicity in evil, or to throw your life away and remain morally unsullied?

In the New Yorker, David Denby opines that these questions are tired, but The Counterfeiters makes them “vibrantly new" and Karl Markovics, who plays Sally, does wonderful work with his “hatchet face.” The New York Times agrees, calling the movie “a swift and suspenseful thriller” and, weirdly enough, also referring to Markovic’s “hatchet face.”

The Entertainment Weekly is equally positive but quibbles with the characterization of Markovic’s head:

Without doing anything so divisive as taking sides, The Counterfeiters pays sympathetic attention to those who play their cards to win even when the rules are terrible, not least because the remarkable Markovics, an Austrian TV actor with a pugnacious anvil of a head, is so riveting as an unsaintly survivor.

 

The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California (jewishsf.com) calls the film “riveting” and has a bunch of great quotes from Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky. My favorite:

“If you show Jews only as flawless victims waiting to be murdered, it’s difficult to relate to these people,” he continued. “The point is that a crook who’s pretty unlikable in the beginning, such a person does not deserve to be killed in a concentration camp [either]. It’s not only about flawless people who shouldn’t be there, but also the not-so-good ones.”

 

True! And the JTA, noting that Ruzowitzky is the grandson of Nazi sympathizers, thinks that “director-writer Ruzowitzky’s background and motivation is as interesting as the movie itself.”

Only one person has anything less than glowing to say about the movie. According to the real-life Adolf Burger, now 90, the film is accurate, but "the book, of course, has more detail and is grittier." The book? Burger’s memoir, on which the film was based. The man might be a nonagenarian, but he knows his PR.

Previously: Best Foreign Picture Says "Suck It, Nazis"