The Counterfeiters, Blu-ray (2007)
Director/Scriptwriter: Stefan Ruzowitsky
Studio: Babelsberg Film/Sony Pictures 26490 [Release date: Aug. 5, 08]
Video: 1.85:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 color, 1080p HD
Audio: German, French Dolby TrueHD 5.1, DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Commentary by Director, Deleted scenes, “The Making of Counterfeiters,” Adolf Burger’s historical artifacts, Q&A with real-life counterfeiter Adolf Burger, Trailer
Length: 95 minutes
This excellent German film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 2008 and deserves it. It’s very difficult for many of us to watch films dealing with the Holocaust, but this one approaches the subject from an entirely different angle. Instead of the main protagonist being an innocent suffering hero, we have a criminal who was known in Berlin of the time as the master counterfeiter of them all. “Sally” – as he is known to disguise his Jewish name of Solomon – spends his time in 1939 Germany on gambling, women and printing more money. The day before he plans to abscond due to a tip he got that authorities were on his trail, he is arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
At the camp, while the other prisoners are subject to the usual inhumane treatment, Sally and a small group of others with similar technical skills are ushered into for them lavish quarters with good food and given a print shop stocked with the very latest equipment. Their charge is to turn out first counterfeit British pound sterling notes and later American dollars. If they don’t, or attempt to sabotage the German effort to wreck the Western economies with counterfeit monies, they will be shot. The operation was the largest known counterfeit operation ever, which printed more than 132 million in British Pounds. Sally argues with the young Burger, who wants to sabotage their work; Sally thinks only of himself and just wants to survive. (By the way, the 90-year-old Burger worked closely with the film’s director and the story details hover close to his actual experiences. His interview in the extras is spellbinding and very informative.)
The various specialists do conspire to slow down the success of their dollar printing efforts, but time is running out and the Nazi are losing and becoming desperate. At the last minute they pack up everything and leave the camp inmates to themselves. The film is bracketed by a radical change of scene to a beach next to a luxe hotel in Monaco where Sally hung out before the war and returns after getting his freedom. He is obviously going right back to his previous life.
The Blu-ray transfer is superb, with the many very dark scenes showing all their fine details. The disc box mentions that the director purposely used several different film stocks appropriate to the different scenes in the film, and these changes are clearly carried across in the Blu-ray transfer. The changes in the observable grain of the film is especially to be noticed – making the concentration camp scenes look like documentary footage, for example.
– John Sunier