This week’s film is a heart-warming family tale about cheeky chappy Salomon, who gets his wrists slapped for counterfeiting documents and money, and because of those pesky Nazis he’s sent to a concentration camp where he’s picked on to do a “special” project - with hilarious results!
Oh ok, maybe not quite the synopsis to match the film, but had I described it straight I would have probably had a negative impact on the emotional state of my ever-growing number of readers (let’s aim for over 5 by 2009). Yet for a German film set during the end of the Second World War and largely featuring life in a concentration camp, which let’s face it is as gloomy as hell on a biscuit, Counterfeiters starts off like a homage to Casino Royale. Stylishly suited and ruggedly handsome, Salomon (Karl Markovics) plays poker while eyeing up high-class totty, who he then ravages in his beautiful hotel suite in Monaco. It’s only when we’re taken back to see Salomon’s past that the gloom starts to threaten.
But even so, Salomon’s time in camp doesn’t look all that bad. He’s set on a special project to counterfeit money for the Nazis, and his little project team are treated pretty well, all things considered. They have nice beds, occasional treats, food and showers – they’re even allowed music. It almost looks like fun if, you know, they weren’t threatened with death if they didn’t do as they were told. And, well, weren’t in a concentration camp.
The film focuses in on the battle of conscience within Salomon’s team – they’re essentially helping the Nazi party and gaining a cushy lifestyle in return, compared to their comrades in neighbouring cells who are unthinkably suffering. But if they don’t do as they’re told, they’ll be killed. Salomon reasons that to survive you “must adapt”, but the price he pays is etched across his face. This is all mirrored nicely with a Nazi guard who doesn’t really share their views, but what else can he do? So there’s lots of weighty moral issues to digest and some powerful scenes, particularly when Salomon faces the less fortunate inmates.
There are lots of familiar prison-type scenes that dampen The Counterfeiters’ originality, and the use of a flashback structure means you never really worry for Salomon’s safety. But still, this is a fresh angle to approach a well-paved subject area, and the acting matches the fascinating character studies. Not as heavy as the synopsis might suggest, but still weighty enough to leave you a little exhausted by the end, The Counterfeiters gains a CF1.