"I Tell You We Must Die"
- The Counterfeiters review by CH
Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's "Alabama Song" comes to mind while watching The Counterfeiters (2007), for this is the often-voiced fear of those in a concentration camp, and the lyrics are all the more apt when one thinks of the previous line: " if we don't find the next little dollar..."
Written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitky, the film has a plot which might sound fantastic but, as we have seen down the years forgery can take many convincing turns. The Nazis had, during the Thirties, rounded up a number of adept counterfeiters, who, being Jewish, duly found themselves in concentration camps. Among them are two played by Karl Markovics and August Diehl. The former is pragmatic when offered relief from camp horrors; the latter increasingly equivocal. And why? Their task, with others, is to create and print English currency which, when dropped by air, would not only bankrupt the country but also bolster a failing Germany when banked in Zurich.
All of which is true.
This brings a new angle to - if one can say so - the familar settings, the familar horrors of a camp, which is here filmed in a form of colour which lays an emphasis upon grey. And so, here is a plot which does not turn upon breaking out but the danger of breaking down as they work in suits with a piece of striped pyjamas on the back to remind them whence they came and that they could yet rejoin those from whom they are separated in the camp.
All of which can, does, make the viewer feel awkward. Here are we, perhaps with a glass of beer in hand, watching something which, to succeed, as it does, has an element of entertainment - what will happen next? - about it. And, at the same time, one asks: on which flank of our side would one have been? Pragmatic or principled?
In fact, it is all the more grey than that. Among other things, the film is a reminder that English notes were once far larger than now, so much so that, rather than squeeze them into a wallet, those lucky enough to have a few of them would pin them together and fold them into a pocket. A convincing forgery needed those pin-holes.
There is a further twist to that tale, not apparent from the film itself, but revealed in an extra on the DVD: a fascinating interview with one of the troubled forgers - Adolf Burger - upon whose memoirs (The Devil's Workshop) it is based. Say no more here, but he had a hunch the notes could not be used.
Time and again, the film turns on trust (can they rely upon the reassurance of the genial, happily-married German officer?), and indeed currency requires trust (as do the art works which command millions). It can all so easily go wrong, as Germans had found when pushing pramloads of dosch to buy a few groceries. What indeed, in recent years, was quantative easing but something similar? And now, in England, we find a Government which has realised it can no longer deny people money but has to accord them - by digital means - a measure of it if the country is not to collapse.
And so, of course, we are in times when hackers are the new gelignite gangs.
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