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'Counterfeiters' Earns Its Oscar

March 13, 2008 By:
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Karl Markovics in "The Counterfeiters," opening Friday
Karl Markovics is definitely the real deal.

Menacingly marvelous, Markovics portrays Salomon Sorowitsch, the major morally bankrupt member of "The Counterfeiters," a select section of concentration-camp victims in a con job by the Nazis to print bogus dollars and pounds, and thus bloat the world financial system into ruin.

It is a true-to-life plot to "go green" that nearly resulted in an eco-tastrophe during World War II, a disaster that had nothing to do with global warming and everything to do with global warning: We will outsmart, outmaneuver and outlast the world in an Aryan race to the finish, threatened the Nazis.

And as "The Counterfeiters" shows with genuine alarm, and against a chilling claustrophobic barracks background, they came close to dropping a dime on the world banks and causing chaos that could have decimated a world already demonized by their mantra of mass murder.

This year's Oscar winner for best foreign film, opening in the area on Friday, March 14, is austerely eerie. In a strong field that included Israel's "Beaufort," this Austrian entry pulled off a sweet sui generis of an accomplishment.

The irony that a film about the Holocaust made by Austria -- with its delineation of Hitler's henchmen and kapos -- copped the Oscar has not been lost on many.

What is also not lost is that this film -- based on the true Operation Bernhard scam to scar the global economy -- is such a real find. It brings a different cinematic skepticism to the scope of man's inhumanity to man while manfully -- at the hands of director Stefan Ruzowitsky -- mangling the black and white of good versus evil into its own sycophantic shade.

The manipulative money-forger foraging for survival at the Sachsenhausen camp, Sorowitsch is at once a sorrowful sight and, contradictorily, an inspired one. His commitment to excellence -- even as that expertise exacerbates the Nazi's nefarious scheme to control the world -- is not displayed without begrudging respect for his pride at a job well done.

And, dollar for dollar, the Nazi commandant -- played to devious perfection by Devid Striesow -- is a freshly minted monster, moviedom's menacing yet newly sensitive Nazi who, damn the expectations, wants you to like him at least a bit.

Audiences will bite at this intriguing film, which certainly transcends its foreign slot and could have been considered as a competitor with the mainstream selections for best film.

There Will Be Blood Boiling
More than the emotions attendant to some of those entries, there will be blood boiling and moral mudslinging over this movie's cogent implications that evil and goodness are in an accommodating if distancing dance of death, practical partners exchanging leads and friendly leers along the way.

In a way, this is the Cinderella-like "Life Is Beautiful" from the stepsister side, another Holocaust film with a sterling pounding of morals compromised by pragmatism.

In the director's statement, he lets the film speak for that often unavowed battle with the inner ogre grappling over the reins of terror withheld by the more accepted sense of goodness: "Since 'Life Is Beautiful,' one can, may and indeed must narrate individual fates which don't claim to represent all victims. One can tell universal stories and limit oneself to small but relevant fragments of the overall truth."

With "The Counterfeiters," he has done just that, reveling in truths that may be too complex for comfort. 

 

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