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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 7, February 17, 2008, Article 29

FILM REVIEW: THE COUNTERFEITERS

[The Hollywood Reporter published a wonderful article this
week about the making of "The Counterfeiters", a film based
on the true story of Operation Bernhard, the concentration
camp based Nazi counterfeiting operation during WWII.
Here are some excerpts. -Editor]

With so many movies having already been made about the
Holocaust you'd think filmmakers would have exhausted all
possible storylines a long time ago.

That's not the case, however, as Stefan Ruzowitzky's "The
Counterfeiters" makes clear. Opening Feb. 22 in New York
and Los Angeles via Sony Pictures Classics, "Counterfeiters"
is Austria's official selection in the 2007 Best Foreign
Language Film Oscar race. The film, shown last fall at the
Telluride and Toronto film festivals, provides a fresh
approach to the Holocaust as movie material with its true
story of one death camp inmate whose professional abilities
as an expert forger made him a particularly valuable prisoner.

Based on the book "The Devil's Workshop" by Adolf Burger,
the film is the true story of Salomon Smolianoff (called
Salomon Sorowitsch or Sally for short in the film and played
very well by Karl Markovics), who fell into Nazi hands when
they were trying to counterfeit British pounds and American
dollars to finance the war and ruin those countries' economies.
Salomon was already known to the German authorities as a
brilliant forger and when the Nazis realized they now had
him they quickly put him to work in the best possible
environment under the circumstances.

Asked about the process of writing the screenplay, Ruzowitzky
pointed out, "It was the usual problems you have when you're
writing a script that's based on (a book). Your first draft
is very close to the material, very close to the actual events.
And then you start making adaptations to make it a working
screenplay. I was happy to have Adolf Burger, one of the
survivors of the counterfeiters unit, as a story consultant.

Adapting the lengthy book and its true story into a movie
that runs 98 minutes wasn't easy: "It was mainly about sort
of straightening up the chain of events and making one movie
character out of three or four real life characters to make
it better for the audience to understand. But all these
details like operetta music being played to them all day
long (to drown out the screams of other prisoners being
tortured nearby!) -- all this is authentic. You couldn't
make up something like that. You wouldn't dare to make up
something like that."

The film takes place mostly in the Sachsenhausen deathcamp,
where two barracks were separated from the rest of the camp
for use as a fully equipped workshop for what was called
"Operation Bernhard" and revolved around counterfeiting
dollars and pounds.

There were two moments when I remember I got sort of emotional
during shooting the movie. One was when we shot the scene
where these normal inmates would enter the workshop (and see
the markedly better living conditions for the prisoners who
were working as counterfeiters). You could sense that the
whole crew was quiet and full of respect. And then we shot
that scene. When we were done, they would take out their cell
phones and chocolate bars from their pockets and (that) reminded
us that they were extras -- with makeup and costumes, but extras.

"The other moment was when Burger and Plappler were visiting
us on the set and suddenly we became aware that this is more
than just a movie. We were actually reconstructing an environment
where some of their friends had been killed, where they had
been tortured for a couple of years and there definitely is a
bigger responsibility (as filmmakers). When you're reading
documents or the biographies this is part of the process where
you're shattered as you read about all these unbelievable things."

To read the complete article, see:
Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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