A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this subtitled drama, which is based on a true story, deals with mature themes and includes difficult images of cruelty and murder in a World War II concentration camp. Violence includes beating, fighting, and shooting, with visible blood, bruises, and other signs of brutality. Prisoners are starved, and guards are nasty. Two brief scenes show naked or almost naked women (from the backs). Language includes "f--k," "s--t," and derogatory uses of "Jew."
What's the story?
Bleak, absorbing, and subtly convoluted, THE COUNTERFEITERS is based on the true story of master forger Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), who was forced to oversee a counterfeiting program for the Germans in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. A flashback shows that his pre-capture attitude toward the Nazis was cavalier, that he was a selfish, ambitious, and very skilled criminal. But once he's imprisoned, he finds himself looking after fellow prisoners who are more vulnerable than he is (including one who's more idealistic and another who's deathly ill), as well as conniving to thwart the Nazis' plans, particularly their scheme to flood the British and American economies with fake money.
Is it any good?
Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky's movie tells a terrible but strangely enthralling story, focused on the moral evolution of Solly, the counterfeiter. His complexities -- his desires, fears, and inclination to cheat -- are shrewdly visible in Markovics' remarkable performance. In part, this complexity is achieved by his comparison with other prisoners: former activist (anti-Nazi) printer Adolf Burger (August Diehl) and sensitive Russian art student Kolya (Sebastian Urzendowsky). Equally mesmerizing is Solly's relationship with camp commandant Friedrich Herzog (David Striesow), who at times seems to think of himself as Solly's "friend" -- or at least a colleague in their illegal enterprise -- while also enforcing his power in vile displays of sadism.
The film is also beautifully shot and structured. Rather than taking a more conventional approach -- slow, long takes and somber stationary framing -- the difficult emotional and moral situations of The Counterfeiters are conveyed with a handheld camera and a variety of images: tight shots of shadowed faces, or distant observation of the lonely, bent-over forms of men in dire straits. Such careful, nuanced aesthetic choices reflect the perpetual shifting of Solly's mind as he strives first to protect himself from the Nazis, then to outwit them, and at last to face them ... and resist becoming a monster himself. Though he's surely broken by the experience, he also finds a resolve and capacity for ethical assessment.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impossible choices faced by prisoners in concentration camps -- particularly as portrayed in the movies. What kinds of compromises are they forced to make to stay alive? How does this affect them? How does the strong material in the film make you feel? Do you believe the atrocities depicted here can happen again? Why or why not? Families can also discuss how the movie compares different kinds of criminality. How do Solly's crimes compare to the Nazis'? What makes some crimes worse than others?
- In theaters: February 22, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: August 4, 2008
- Cast: August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Karl Markovics
- Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some strong violence, brief sexuality/nudity and language.
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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