This Austrian-German production won the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2008 Academy Awards, and it's no surprise why it did. Boasting an incredible story about basic human instinct and survival, we journey with the protagonist down a slippery slope from within the confines of a concentration camp in Operation Bernhard, fictionalized in an account of the Nazis' plot in flooding the British economy with fake currency.
Based upon the memoirs written by Adolf Burger, The Counterfeiters tell of a group of Jewish prisoners who got recruited from camps for such a career much against their wishes, if not for the threat of death. Being skilled craftsmen in their own right, they get bundled together, and realize that so long as they deliver the goods to their captives, they'll be spared their lives because of their usefulness to the cause. Centering upon the key counterfeiter in Salomon Sorowitsch who is a professional counterfeiting scam artist, we see how his genius get exploited.
It's an interesting moral tale because while he's essentially a conman, you can't help but to sympathize with him, and think about how you would personally react when put under the same circumstance, basically to ply your skills or death. Not much of a choice, isn't it? But what if you conscientiously know your skills would be put to evil use, at a macro level, not for personal gains? While your tools of the trade and your wit are used to con others for a living, you're essentially caught in a catch-22 situation, where you have to help your enemies in fulfilling their objectives, even at the risk of dooming your fellow countrymen outside of your current social environment.
Karl Markovics in that sense brought out this sense of dread, hypocrisy and two-timing to perfection as Sorowitsch. Being the make or break show-stopper in the entire counterfeiting process, he has to ensure his own survival by crafting quite cunningly, a route to a better life from within the concentration camp he resides in. Naturally his talents do not go unnoticed, and from small little gains such as food scraps, he makes some headway when he gets recruited for the Nazi's dirty work, putting into good use his skills of forgery. On a personal level, it's a challenge to himself to forge the greenback, now backed by German engineering ingenuity, granted higher technology at his disposal, as well as a group of craftsmen, to aid in his work.
Then again, he knows that by doing so, he is in fact aiding the enemy in filling up their (fake) war chest. For every milestone they reach, the group of prisoners get rewards, and with deadlines failing to be met, the threat of death comes looming. Naturally he has to balance both sides of the equation - death and life, that between sucking up to his captors and coaxing his fellow Jews to aid him to prolong all their lives, and on a more personal level, satisfaction in knowing that he's the best forger out there.
It is precisely the dalliances with these dilemmas that make The Counterfeiters very compelling to watch, especially when events start to go into full swing, with of course the mockery to the entire banking system of checks and balances. Definitely comes highly recommended!