The Counterfeiters (Die Falscher)
The Holocaust is so monstrous it can't be contained inside any movie, any novel, any museum or memoir. So the only way even to begin to grapple with its hellish macrocosm is to carve out a microcosm--to retell one person's experience and hope that a part can stand for the whole. But what's left is hundreds of individual stories in the playground of popular fiction, from Sophie's Choice to Life Is Beautiful to Schindler's List, all of them told by survivors. So as the real horror recedes into the fugitive recesses of history, what's left is a pat, "inspiring" cultural myth that, for most, the Holocaust was a painful stint in boot camp culminating in personal growth, and that wanton, blanket extermination was something that happened to other people. How ironic that a desire to preserve truth via fiction ends up becoming instead a poisonously subtle form of Holocaust denial.
The Counterfeiters is the most egregious example of this well-meaning but ultimately corrosive impulse. Yes, it's based on real events, the covert Nazi scheme Operation Bernhard, where concentration-camp inmates with printing expertise were recruited to falsify reams of British pounds in order to destabilize England's economy. The key player in this retelling is Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), a master counterfeiter with considerable clout in the decadent Weimar underground. After getting busted, he's shipped off to a labor camp where he "accidentally" leaves flattering portraits of his captors lying around. The Nazis decide his artistic gifts shouldn't be squandered and reassign him to the counterfeiting operation, where, in comparatively plush surroundings, he and his fellow printers painstakingly re-create paper money--with or without the contributions of highly principled communist Adolf Burger (August Diehl), whose high-minded refusal to bankroll the Nazi war machine puts everyone's life in jeopardy as he sabotages plate after plate of negatives.
Even after stripping away the aforementioned ethical conundrum of placing any narrative within the Holocaust, The Counterfeiters isn't a very good movie. Its strokes are too broad, its characters too archetypal, its acting too vague, and its conclusions too hollow. Unfortunately for this movie, the Holocaust is one of those things that can't be stripped away, and so the decision to place this meager melodrama within its satanic confines is borderline offensive. As the well-treated prisoners eat three meals a day, sleep on soft beds, listen to the Victrola while printing their notes, and finally corner a cowering SS officer at gunpoint, it doesn't matter how authentic the details are--this movie now becomes another lacquer of happy ending over a slowly fading abomination. Do you want to see a real movie about the Holocaust? It would have to star one person, in pain and terror, and would end with his or her death. And it would have 6 million sequels. Anything else isn't worth the paper it's printed on.