Saturday, August 30, 2008

THE COUNTERFEITERS (Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2007, Austria) Definition: To make a fraudulent copy of something valuable. THE COUNTERFEITERS forges the truth by reinventing history with the typical representative characters and clearly delineated conflicts. Here, fact becomes fiction. The drama is condensed in order to meet audience expectations without too much moral ambiguity. We are not allowed to witness the true horror as human boundaries are erased, where “good versus evil” has little meaning, only the base animal instinct of survival. This film easily falls into the modern Holocaust genre and becomes a victim of its own static conventions…both Jew and Nazi; we’ve seen these archetypal characters before. The narrative structure utilizes flashback to impart the bulk of the story and bookends the film with Salomon Sorowitsch gambling in Monte Carlo after the war: his purpose to discard the Nazi blood money. This prologue and epilogue could have been deleted because it doesn’t offer any insight or advance the plot; it only alludes to an ersatz romance. Technically effective, Director Stefan Ruzowitzky begins the film with a surreal vibrancy then bleaches the color and changes to a grainy film stock to represent Sorowitsch’s grey and lifeless monotone existence. There are only two long shots that establish Sachsenhausen: Ruzowitzky films almost entirely in close quarters, which heighten this claustrophobic dementia. His use of a quick pan and zoom into close up within the same shot is used for exciting dramatic effect: this visual punch gives the film a realistic visceral impact. The acting is adequate but frustratingly one-dimensional: Sorowitsch is too cold and withdrawn while the supporting characters are rather bland caricatures representing black and white moral viewpoints. This intellectual luxury is denied the other faceless prisoners who are tortured daily, their existence measured in heartbeats. The director relies on our spontaneous empathy for the protagonists of this shattering Holocaust tale and forgets to infuse the drama with humanity. (C)

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