The Counterfeiters

When an Austrian filmmaker who makes no secret of the fact that his grandparents were Nazi sympathizers makes a fact-based movie (and wins the Academy Award for best foreign film) about a Jewish forger who survived the concentration camps by printing money for the German war effort, is he a brave boy or a rotten apple falling unpleasantly close to his nation’s tarnished tree? Viennese actor Karl Markovics gives a masterful portrayal of Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch, a shifty-eyed, hatchet-faced criminal Jew, but The Counterfeiters plays like a realist drama made to spring Sorowitsch from stereotype and expose him as a flawed man torn between his Darwinian credo (adapt) and a fatherly desire to protect the weak. Writer-director Stefan Ruzowitzky keeps the physical brutality peripheral, in part to underscore the predicament of the counterfeiters, who live in a velvet prison next door to the hell that other inmates suffer. Based on a memoir by Adolf Burger, a Communist inmate who opposed Sorowitsch’s collusion and advocated sabotage, the film succumbs to a heroic climax of sorts. But at its best — and queasiest — The Counterfeiters asks what counts as moral behavior under fascism and whether one’s first duty is to survive.

Categories: Movies