Film Reviews by Philip in Paradiso

Welcome to Philip in Paradiso's film reviews page. Philip in Paradiso has written 114 reviews and rated 115 films.

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Under the Volcano

A film that is both interesting and annoying, fascinating and flawed

(Edit) 29/11/2021

In 1938, Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) is a former British consul to Mexico, who lives in a small town in the country. His wife, Yvonne (a radiantly beautiful Jacqueline Bisset), has deserted him for a year and he is depressed. He spends all his time drinking to drown his sorrows and his feeling of failure: he seems to be on a perpetual bar crawl across town. The story line develops from there.

It is a good film in many ways, which re-creates the atmosphere of 1930s provincial Mexico very well, although it feels a bit like a tourist brochure at times. Much of the acting is very good - Albert Finney is at the centre of the film and is a convincing drunkard. The last 20 mins of the film are memorable. But there is something unsatisfactory and annoying about the movie. For a start, G Firmin is a repellent character in many ways: he feels sorry for himself and is egotistical in the extreme, pretending to lead a tragic existence when he is merely pathetic. Some of the dialogues feel contrived, with vaguely pseudo-romantic views of the world, but this does fit in with the historical period, in some ways. Mostly, not that much actually happens until the climax, i.e. the last 20 to 30 mins.

The film is about 2 hours long and quite slow: we mostly watch G Firmin, the central character, drinking, getting drunk, eating, talking, pontificating, drinking some more, and walking about. In some respects, I felt I was watching a play rather than a film, or a play that had been filmed rather than a novel that had been adapted to the silver screen. This has probably to do with the theatrical way that G Firmin, the lead character, expresses himself, which is largely deliberate in terms of the story. G Firmin, his misfortunes and the story around him felt more typical of the 19th century than of the 20th, to me: this is Mexico before 1940 but it could be Spain c.1830.

An interesting film based on an interesting novel, but not a masterpiece, in my view, but still worth seeing, if only for the last 30 mins. It takes a certain stamina to get there, however.

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Breaker Morant

The bloody reality of the Boer War c.1900 made devastatingly real

(Edit) 22/11/2021

The film is about the 1902 court martial of 3 officers under British command in the Second Anglo-Boer War: lieutenants Harry Morant, Peter Handcock and George Witton. The 3 officers are accused of war crimes; they are Australians serving in the British Army. Morant, Handcock, and Witton stand accused of murdering captured Boer fighters and a German missionary in the Northern Transvaal. The facts of the case are presented in flashbacks. As a result, such scenes alternate with developments in the court martial, which follows, itself, the classical format of a court case.

A wide range of issues are touched upon in the movie. What is a war crime? What if officers were merely following orders? Could they avoid doing what they did? This may all sound dry and even academic, but the movie is constructed in such a way that it never feels that way at all. There are many striking battle scenes inserted in the narrative too.

Overall, this is a remarkably good film, which grips the viewer from beginning to end. It reconstitutes the context - Britain's imperial expansion across Southern Africa in the early 20th century - extremely well, and the characters feel very real and, in fact, very modern. I recommend this historical drama, which dwells on a dark page of British colonial history that is well-known in Australia, but not in Britain.

[I had problems with the DVD. I have informed Cinema Paradiso. It may have to do with the way it was recorded.]

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No Time to Die

Good entertainment re-packaged for our PC age

(Edit) 09/11/2021

As most J Bond films, this is good entertainment, but the plot is both implausible and predictable, and the story a bit shallow. D Craig is an ageing Bond brought out of semi-retirement in order to save the world. There are plenty of action scenes and pyrotechnics, and that is about it.

J Bond is a faithful lover who does not even think of sleeping around: even Ana de Armas is unable to lead him astray (and, in fact, shows little interest in him)! J Bond's romantic focus is Lea Seydoux, who has a tendency to look as if she has been sucking on bitter lemons for the past few days and is not enjoying any of it. When J Bond is brought out of retirement, he realizes that a new '007' has been appointed: Nomi (black British actress Lashana Lynch). So, we have a bit of virtue signalling thrown in for good measure: the ageing, straight white man is due to be replaced by a robust and super-fit black woman. (There is no indication, sadly, of her sexual preferences, however.)

This is a James Bond for the politically correct 21st century, without too many surprises, except one, towards the end, that one will not reveal. If you like Bond films, you will enjoy this one too. It is not bad, but it is not outstanding either, somehow.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Lacombe, Lucien

A nuanced and chilling insight into wartime occupied France

(Edit) 08/11/2021

This film, which has become a controversial classic in France, gives a unique insight into what things were like in wartime France, while the country was occupied by the Nazis. Lucien Lacombe, in the movie, is a teenager of peasant stock, who comes from a small village. He hesitates between joining the Resistance movement, close to the Communists, or collaborationist circles, and the paramilitary police that works closely with the German authorities, including the Gestapo.

What the film shows, and which shocked people in France so much at the time (and even since), is that some people joined one side or the other out of ideological convictions, but many may have done so due to circumstance and out of opportunism more than anything else. In the movie, things are not clear-cut: there are many grey areas and guilt is not black and white. Having said that, many of the individuals who worked for the so-called French Gestapo (la Carlingue) were indeed gangsters and criminals, who saw the Occupation of France as a golden opportunity to do business. (See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlingue)

The way that collaborationist circles are portrayed is unforgiving and very realistic: to say that the director was trying to defend Vichy France, as some commentators have done, is clearly absurd and unjustified.

The film is very good. It works from start to finish, with excellent acting, among other things. It has not aged at all, by which I mean the style of the narrative still feels fresh and immediate. Even if you are not particularly interested in period films and in history as such, I strongly recommend this disturbing historical drama.

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True Grit

An excellent western that may become a classic

(Edit) 11/10/2021

This is a very good western. The story is of the kind we have come to expect: a desire for revenge on the part of the main character, following the murder of a family member. What is unusual, in terms of the typical Wild West storyline, is that the heroine is a girl, and a very young girl at that: a young teenager (age, 15, played by Hailee Steinfeld, remarkable), who decides, with steely determination, to avenge her father. In order to hunt down her father's killer, she needs help. Enter an unlikely duo: a Texas Ranger, who is a bit of a fool in some ways (Matt Damon), and a local marshal (Jeff Bridges), who is a one-eyed, ageing drunkard.

There are many funny moments but it does not detract, in my view, from the interest of the film, and does not undermine the narrative; it feels more realistic for it, giving a certain texture and authenticity to the story. The dialogues are quick-witted and amusing. However, that is also where there is a major problem: Jeff Bridges is very difficult to understand, as pointed out by several reviewers. I watched the film without the subtitles, but there is no doubt that I missed a lot of the repartees. This is a pity.

Overall, I recommend this film to anyone who has any interest in the genre of the western. It is memorable and enjoyable.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The Game

A unique movie with highly unexpected and dramatic developments from start to finish

(Edit) 27/09/2021

Successful but lonely investment banker Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), who is based in San Francisco, is about to turn 48. For Nicholas's 48th birthday, Conrad, his brother (Sean Penn), presents him with a gift: a voucher allowing Nicholas to take part in a game offered by a company going by the name of Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Hesitant at first, Nicholas decides to play the game; he is told it will change his life.

What follows is a thriller-like storyline that is full of unexpected twists and turns. Although implausible in many respects, the story is still utterly fascinating, as you wonder where the game is going to take Nicholas next. And the game in question plays on raw emotions in a way that can be rather cruel at times. What is the game about? What (and who) is part of it, and what (and who) isn't? What is the aim of the game? When will it end?

Without ever indulging in philosophizing, the movie asks deeper questions, if only indirectly. Is life itself a game? Who is acting, and who isn't? Who is reliable in that game? What are the rules, if any? Where does the game end and 'reality' begin? Isn't the reality of the game as real as life itself? The film will keep you guessing to the end. In this respect, it is highly successful and highly unusual. It is not predictable. It will surprise you and confuse you, just like the game that Nicholas Van Orton is playing.

Centred primarily on the character played by Michael Douglas, this is a truly excellent film. Michael Douglas' outstanding acting makes all of it highly believable while you are watching the movie: just like him, you are caught up in the game. Within the parameters that it sets itself, this film is a masterpiece.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Body Heat

A masterpiece of a neo-noir thriller with William Hurt and Kathleen Turner

(Edit) 15/09/2021

During a heatwave in Florida, a local lawyer, Ned Racine (William Hurt), meets Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). The lawyer is not very good at his job and is an unrepentant womanizer. He is struck by the beauty of Matty Walker - a rich, mysterious and seemingly lonely woman, who lives in a mansion by the coast. N Racine becomes obsessed with her.

The film has been described as neo-noir in that it is in the style of the noir thrillers of the 1940s: in the movie, which launched her career at the time, K Turner is stunningly attractive, oozing sex appeal, and her classy beauty is in the style of Lauren Bacall. The way she dresses is elegant and her hairstyle is that of L Bacall in the iconic photos you can find on the internet of the actress.

The film was made in 1981, but it almost feels like the 1950s. At the same time, the story is not dated at all: the plot works every step of the way, without implausible complications or unnecessary twists, and with remarkable precision; the atmosphere is tense and heady - tension which is, to a large extent, of a sexual nature, between the 2 lead characters; the music is engrossing and poignant; the acting and the dialogues are excellent - everything in the film works, and works to perfection.

Within the parameters of the genre, to me, this is a masterpiece. I am surprised the movie is not mentioned in anthologies more often and has not attained cult status. You will enjoy it. [The only regret one may have is that the title is not good: it does not do justice to the movie, which is intelligently constructed from start to finish and well-acted.]

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Stalingrad

A good war film, but try to see the subtitled version (the dubbed one isn't great)

(Edit) 23/08/2021

This is a film about the battle of Stalingrad, during WWII, between the Germans and Axis armed forces, and the Soviet army, which resulted, as we know, in a humiliating defeat for the Nazis - a turning point in the war paving the way for the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. The film is good and interesting, although it starts a bit slowly. All of it is seen through the eyes of a unit of German soldiers transferred from the (quiet) Italian front to the (apocalyptic) Russian front. The movie shows what they go through, and how they respond to events.

The film is not a masterpiece, and it is made in the classical - perhaps even predictable, up to a point - format of a WWII war film. But it is a good film. The biggest drawback, pointed out by other reviewers, is the atrocious dubbing, which makes the film sound like a shoddy TV drama at times: the (German) actors speak with a (pseudo-) Teutonic accent in English which truly grates and partly ruins the movie. We should be provided with a German copy with subtitles, and it is a great shame that it is not the case.

The film shows repeated atrocities perpetrated by German soldiers (burning down villages, executing civilians, etc.). On the other hand, it implies that most ordinary soldiers, also on the Eastern front, were not particularly anti-Russian or pro-Nazi; they may have been patriotic and won over by Nazi propaganda, but, at heart, they were just ordinary German soldiers dragged into the horrors of war. In other words, apart from a few characters who are clearly rabid and militant Nazis (one in particular), the other, regular troops are not ideologically motivated and even feel rather sorry, at times, for the fate meted out to Russian civilians. I must say I believe this is self-serving and not entirely honest or accurate historically - a rather German way of exonerating the regular troops. In other words, everyone was a victim of Nazism, including ordinary Germans, including ordinary German soldiers, who got forced to commit atrocities under Nazi command against their better judgment.

To set the record straight, we now know from many studies, books, etc. that this was not the case. The Wehrmacht (in particular the officers, but not only) were aware of what was going on, including the systematic atrocities committed on the Eastern front, against Slavs and Jews. In many cases, the regular army provided support to specialist units tasked with carrying out mass murder against Jewish communities, for instance (more particularly: see role of the Einsatzgruppen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einsatzgruppen).

There is no doubt that the regular army was involved in war crimes on the Eastern front, and that the hatred for Slavs in general, and the Russians in particular, was deep-seated. As a result, it does not seem realistic to suggest that a majority of soldiers in the German army would have been shocked to see Russian civilians being treated like animals to be slaughtered by German forces across the board. It simply does not add up. I believe that many German soldiers, also from the regular army, would have been only too willing - eager even - to take part in the atrocities in question, as opposed to being forced to perform them by ideologically driven Nazi officers. To start with, the support for the Nazi party in 1930s Germany was massive. But of course, after Stalingrad, many Germans realised the writing was on the wall, and the entire satanical project would, sooner or later, collapse, as, thankfully, it did eventually. Only the convinced Nazis supported the regime to the bitter end; but the German armed forces carried on fighting - and fighting very hard on every front - to the very end, all the same.

I still recommend the film. The tank battle in the snow is especially memorable, even though it is also horrific.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Sunset

A fascinating dive into Budapest's underbelly on the eve of WWI

(Edit) Updated 09/08/2021

This is a film like no other - or, rather, very few films I have seen are in any way comparable. It made me think of 'Eyes Wide Shut' by Stanley Kubrick. The movie is about a milliner, a young woman called Irisz Leiter, who arrives in Budapest from Trieste: she wants to work for the upmarket hat shop originally set up by her late parents. The shop is still named after them: Leiter. Irisz learns that she may have a brother and starts looking for him. In so doing, she uncovers various dark secrets that she is not meant to discover.

Irisz is an odd character: her face is blank and hardly expresses any emotions, but is weirdly intense and focused, almost as if she were a ghost from the past who has returned to the scene of crime in order to haunt the living. She is single-minded to the point of being stubborn. She will not take 'no' for an answer. Every time she is told not to do something or not to go somewhere, she does exactly what she has been advised not to do. She is driven by her purpose in a near-obsessive way. Mostly, all that matters to her, it seems, is to establish the truth - the truth of what goes on in the hat shop, the truth of the existence of her brother (or not), the truth of her past, etc. Nothing will deflect her from her quest, as she puts herself in great danger along the way.

Everything in the film is seen through her eyes and the camera moves about as she moves about Budapest - a large, dusty and chaotic city. We follow her in her quest. The film is often puzzling, but that is because the reality she is up against is confused and unclear. To a large extent, that is due to the fact the people she comes across are trying to hide things from her: dark and guilty secrets, shameful actions and practices, and so on. Mystery is at the heart of the film: her quest for the truth is constantly thwarted by men and women who are trying, for various reasons that are not always clear or obvious, to preserve the mystery at the heart of the story (or the mysteries, which are mixed with foreboding, guilt, shame and danger).

This creates a weird and, at times, almost dream-like atmosphere, reinforced by the frequently blurred and sepia images. The story of Irisz is set against the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, right before the outbreak of World War One that was to finish it off. There is a sense of tension in the air, all the time, and a sense of a decadent society that is doomed. In her quest for the truth, Irisz plunges into the sinister underbelly of Hungarian society, pre-WWI, and of Budapest - a world of crime, sexual deviancy, lust and violence. There are gangs that also seem to have an anarchist and/or Hungarian nationalist (anti-Austrian) agenda. The confusion gives way to extreme violence in striking scenes that are filmed in a way that I have never seen before, I think: the way the film is shot, we feel the fear and the dread of those who are victimized, including Irisz. We almost feel it physically: it hits us and feels very real, unlike the average Hollywood action movie.

The film, in some ways, is probably a bit too long, and a bit too slow in places, and too opaque (although that is quite deliberate), with implausible aspects too. Having said all this, it is utterly fascinating even though, ultimately, the plot is not that complex. After you have seen the movie, you will think about it and try to make sense of it all. It is intriguing and captivating. So, a great film, and perhaps, in its own way, a masterpiece, in my view. Mostly, what is unforgettable, here, is the atmosphere the director succeeds in creating - something totally unique.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Sweet Country

An authentic and gripping story set in the Australian Outback, in 1929

(Edit) 19/07/2021

The plot is relatively simple: an Aboriginal farmhand, Sam Kelly, gets into trouble when his path crosses that of a violent, heavy-drinking and racist white farmer called Harry March. And the story unfolds relentlessly. The film is excellent on many levels. Within the genre - the Australian-type western - it is perfect, even though it is slow at times, more particularly at the beginning.

The film is very good because it feels so real and so authentic, as many Australian movies of this kind can be. There is something raw about the story: the film succeeds in conveying the vastness of Australia and its hinterland, and the rough way of life of its inhabitants - be they the Aborigines or the white settlers. The characters have a powerful on-screen presence, particularly and unusually the Aboriginal actors. Far from being secondary and silent figures, they are central to the story. Sam Kelly is full of dignity and strength, coping with fate as best he can. He is profoundly human and touching, and we can easily relate to him. The storyline is plausible from start to finish and the landscapes are intense and beautiful. The wild and remote beauty of the Outback is ever-present.

This is not an easy film to watch, on the other hand, as the story is not a rosy one. Many of the characters are quite repellent. But it is a memorable movie and a very good one. I recommend it.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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The Good Shepherd

A drawn-out history of the CIA from c.1940 to c.1965 that still fascinates

(Edit) 06/07/2021

This is an unusual film in some ways. It is very long (2 hrs 40 mins) and a bit slow and demonstrative; it is not an action movie at all, despite what some may expect. It is deliberative and cerebral, meticulously reconstructing the atmosphere of the late 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s and the early 1960s primarily through the eyes of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a senior CIA officer. E Wilson is not a field officer: quite the opposite, he is a desk officer - the faceless bureaucrat who pulls the strings. In some ways, he is dull. In other ways, he is powerful and scary. What the film is very good at is showing what E Wilson sacrifices, in terms of his personal life and happiness, in pursuit of his mission, which is some sort of ill-defined dream that can easily turn into a nightmare.

There are some rather implausible aspects to the story: for example, E Wilson hardly ages through 30 years of intelligence work (contrary to his wife, played quite well by Angelina Jolie). The twist in the tale, at the end, is hardly plausible either (I cannot say any more to avoid spoiling any of it). The film is probably a bit too long and a bit gloomy as well as ponderous, and yet I found it utterly fascinating and it captivated me from start to finish. The intelligence community itself, in the USA, has criticized the movie for not being historically accurate, but this does not matter so much: it is, in actual fact, primarily a personal tragedy around the theme of morality and commitment, centred on an inscrutable and enigmatic Matt Damon, rather than just a historical saga about the CIA per se.

It is a complex film, with many flashbacks that can feel a bit tiresome at times: it forces you to make an effort in order to follow the plot, back and forth, but it is worth the effort. On balance, I would certainly recommend this film.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Dreamland

A good 'vintage' thriller that is too predictable

(Edit) 14/06/2021

This thriller is set in 1930s Texas. Everything is reconstituted exceedingly well and feels very real. The acting is excellent, including that of Margot Robbie, the lead female character. (Darby Camp, in the role of the little girl, is amazing.) It is a kind of Bonnie and Clyde story of a kind that we are all familiar with.

It is a good movie and an entertaining one, and the storyline is well put together. But something is missing. It is hard to tell what, precisely. Ultimately, it could be in the nature of Allison Wells (Margot Robbie), the central female character, as she somehow lacks depth and complexity. In the last analysis, the story unfolds in a predictable manner, and it fails to surprise us: that is probably the film's key weakness.

The DVD I was sent was configured in such a way that it was impossible to remove the subtitles (in English). I tried for about 25 mins without success, then gave up. This also ruined it for me, as they take up a lot of the screen and prevent you from truly 'entering' the story, reminding you constantly that you are watching a movie... It is easier to tolerate the subtitles when it is a foreign film. I found this extremely annoying. I have never had this problem before with any DVD.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Les Misérables

An excellent movie showing life in the rougher suburbs of French cities

(Edit) 07/06/2021

The film takes place in Montfermeil, a rough suburb of Paris. The local population that lives in high-rise apartment blocks is mostly of North African and African origin. The film follows a 3-man team of police officers in an unmarked car; their role is to crack down on crime and intervene fast when needed. One of them, Stéphane Ruiz, is shocked by the way his colleagues behave, but he is new. Soon, a fairly trivial incident escalates, as violence is unleashed - a combination of police brutality on the one hand and rioting by the local, mostly black male teenagers, on the other, who resent the police patrols.

Although the film is an action movie in many ways - but not a conventional one - it also touches upon far deeper issues, including social deprivation, poverty, cultural integration, non-European immigration, delinquency, etc. The story is fast-paced and, although simple enough, full of extreme tension and suspense. What is also striking is that it feels almost like a documentary rather than a piece of fiction. The main characters feel very real, and there are many funny or farcical moments too, as can happen in real life, even in dramatic situations.

You do not often see films like this, which refrain from preaching, tell a story of this kind, and tell it well. I would say it is quite a remarkable achievement. The situations depicted are, from what I know, highly realistic: many rough council estates with a high immigrant population in French cities could be the scene of such developments. But the film is never simplistic, in my opinion, in the way that it deals with the issues: there is no simple answer to the mess that those forgotten communities live in... It should be pointed out that the director is, himself, from that part of Paris, and is of African origin.

I strongly recommend the film. I think it is excellent and memorable. [If you watch it with the standard settings, it is in French, with subtitles in English.]

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Let Him Go

An excellent film set in provincial, rural early 1960s America

(Edit) 17/05/2021

In 1961, in Montana, George Blackledge (Kevin Costner), a retired sheriff, lives with his wife Margaret (Diane Lane), their son, their daughter-in-law, and the couple's baby. The movie starts off as a sentimental drama, and develops into a thriller. It has been described as 'a neo-Western film'. The plot is interesting because the characters are, and the acting is excellent. More particularly, K Costner's on-screen presence is compelling. As for D Lane, she is simply remarkable in the way she acts her part. She is no longer young, but there is a radiant beauty to her. Also, her face is very expressive, and she always strikes the right note in every situation. Neither character speaks that much, but we get to understand their feelings and emotions effortlessly. All the other characters are also highly convincing.

The movie feels very real, even though the story is hardly ordinary, in the way that it unfolds. The central characters are developed in terms of their expectations, their attitudes, their behaviour... The atmosphere of provincial, rural America in the early 1960s is reconstituted very well. The tension is never far from the surface, sustaining our interest right through the film. Overall, in the register that the film has chosen, it works extremely well. There is something profoundly honest about the characters played by K Costner and D Lane, and their on-screen couple seems close and convincing: they look like a real-life couple, as they interact.

An excellent film, which I would recommend; I suspect it may become a classic of the genre. My only reservation would be the title, which is not very good, although it does relate closely to the storyline. The title is bland and a bit daft: it does not do justice to the high quality of the movie.

3 out of 4 members found this review helpful.

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The Counterfeiters

An excellent film about an incredible WWII story

(Edit) 09/05/2021

Salomon Sorowitsch (based on Salomon Smolianoff's life) is the central character in this film. He is played by Austrian actor Karl Markovics, who is simply amazing in terms of his looks - a very angular face like a fish-knife - as well as his acting and his facial expressions. He barely twitches and always refrains from showing any emotions in the camp, and yet, you know exactly what he is thinking and how he is feeling about the situation at hand: his acting is simply outstanding and unforgettable - truly amazing.

The plot is based on a completely true story (you can read an account here, after watching the film: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Bernhard), which is, itself, totally incredible: Nazi Germany set out to produce millions and millions of fake pounds sterling from a secret unit in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. To that intent, a team of counterfeiters was put together, made up of printers, graphic artists, bankers, etc. Salomon, for his part, is put in charge of quality control as he is a career criminal and an expert forger. The head of the unit, within the camp - an SS officer who is a policeman by background - soon demands that they produce large quantities of US dollars, which are more difficult to make...

The environment of the concentration camps and the routine violence inflicted on Jewish inmates are horrific. What is interesting, though, is also the complex rapport between Salomon and the head of the unit, Sturmbannführer Herzog. Therefore, the film is interesting on many levels: as a historical drama depicting actual events; as a psychological drama set in the period of the war; and also, in fact, as a thriller, given the counterfeiters' mission.

It is hard to watch at times, given the nature of the context and story, but I would say that this movie is a masterpiece.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.
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