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Fälscher, Die (The Counterfeiters)

(2008) *** R
99 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky. Cast: Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Martin Brambach, August Zirner.

Austria's Academy Award-winner for Best Foreign Language Film of 2007, The Counterfeiters shines a light onto yet another shadow of the Holocaust. Operation Bernhard found the German Reich forging hundred of millions of British pounds, and then going after the U.S. dollar in an attempt to destabilize Allied economies while financing the Nazi war effort.

To achieve their ends, the Nazis needed the genius of a Russian Jewish forger who may well have been the best counterfeiter in the world. Because of various narrative liberties, the real-life Salomon "Sali" Smolianoff becomes Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), but the story in its broad strokes is a true one. Plucked from one horrifying concentration camp and transferred to another (Mauthausen) with relatively plush conditions, Sorowitsch ruthlessly seizes the opportunity to trade on his expertise. "Know why the Jews are always persecuted?" he asks. "Because they refuse to adapt."

But it doesn't take long for the talented Sorowitsch to question the ethics of the relatively simple challenge before him. Should Sorowitsch answer to a higher calling than his defining self-interest in survival? He's surrounded by determined resisters, like Adolf Burger (August Diehl), who proves as insistently political as Sorowitsch is survivalist. (The real-life Burger authored the memoir, The Devil's Workshop, on which the film is based, and served as a consultant on the film.)  Sturmbannführer Friedrich Herzog (Devid Striesow) offers another perspective: "If the Russians come, one will just have to fight anew for one's place in society...Everyone has to look out for himself."

Writer-director Stefan Ruzowitzky dramatizes the moral debate of what's worth dying and living for, and in doing so, he risks becoming more polemical than intellectually subtle. But hold fast to Sorowitsch: Markovics expertly projects every craven instinct and heartfelt yearning of the complex protagonist, making The Counterfeiters an experience at least as satisfying emotionally as it is intellectually.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 8/5/2008

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony has put out an ideal special edition for The Counterfeiters on Blu-Ray and DVD. The Blu-Ray features an excellent transfer that accurately preserves, with fine detail, the film's noticeable grain and desaturated color, the key being a complete lack of digital artifacts. The transfer also handles well the film's common use of low light, the one category of imagery that Blu-Ray usually fails to capture in a filmlike manner. The German Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track (prominently subtitled in white English lettering) likewise leaves nothing to be desired.

The special edition begins with a full-length commentary by writer-director Stefan Ruzowitzky, covering all aspects of the film's conception, production, and intersection with history. The featurette "The Making of The Counterfeiters" (10:03) presents behind-the-scenes footage and clips of a school lecture by Adolf Burger, as well as interviews with Ruzowitzsky, Burger, Karl Markovics, and August Diehl.

A more expansive section of Interviews (38:07 with "Play All" option) begins with an in-depth Q&A with "Director Stefan Ruzowitzky" (17:59) that covers the origin of the film and the development of the screenplay from Burger's book, pre-production, casting Markovics, the relationship between Sally and Burger, shooting difficult scenes, meeting the real Burger, and responses to the film. "Adolf Burger" (9:56) discusses how his book came to be written, how he became involved in the film, how the film differs from real life, and how to tell the difference between a real note and a counterfeit. "Karl Markovics" (10:23) discusses his first reactions to the screenplay, how the film was positioned for a German audience, his research, and his experience of shooting the film and working with Ruzowitzky.

"Adolf Burger's Artifacts" (19:15) is a fascinating, detailed, indispensible show-and-tell by the real Burger, who displays the drawings and examples of forgeries that he has retained from his time in the camp. The "AFI Fest Q&A with Director Stefan Ruzowitzsky" (13:16) offers yet more background from the film's prime mover, as he fields questions on the origin of the film, the rehearsal process, adapting a true story, the real "Sorowitsch," developing characters and script, any national resistance to the film, what he could and couldn't shoot at the real Mauthausen, and the film's potential social impact.

A few Deleted Scenes (3:41 with "Play All" option) are also included: "Aglaia Lowenstein on the Staircase" (:35), "Prison" (:50), "Saliva Sample" (1:45), and "Burger & Zilioski" (:43). Lastly, we get the film's Original Theatrical Trailer (2:15) and a suite of previews for Standard Operating Procedure, Redbelt, Youth Without Youth, Sleuth, Black Book, Persepolis, The Lives of Others, Married Life, Steep, The Jane Austen Book Club, and The Fall. All of the video-based bonuses are in standard definition. Clearly, Sony has delivered a definitive special edition for 2007's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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