By Jie Jenny Zou
Nestled between the Wang Center and the Melville Library lies Stony Brook’s very own Staller Center. Unbeknownst to many students is the fact that for twenty dollars, one can purchase a season pass to view their weekly Friday offerings. Aside from their ultra-dark theaters (I mean can’t-see-the-stranger-sitting-next-to-you-damn-this-place-is-darrrrk kind of dark), cinema buffs will also enjoy their diverse array of indie films from “Flight of the Red Balloon” to last spring’s “My Father, My Lord” — all showcased on generously sized (this means rather large) screens. Be forewarned though, Staller caters to a much older crowd, so I hope you like/can endure the smell of Bengay.
For this particular night, I arrived at the packed theater for a 7 pm curtain of Die Falscher or, for those of you unfamiliar with German, The Counterfeiter(s). Yes, German. This is one of those “reading” films. Written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, The Counterfeiters is based on a memoir of the same name by Adolf Burger, a Jewish Slovak interned in the currency counterfeiting campaign during the Holocaust. The film version, however, forgoes focusing on the Resistance-touting Adolf Burger and instead chooses the much less moral, ambivalent Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch as the main character. Played with understated brilliance by Austrian actor Karl Markovics, Sally is the kind of guy that thinks the best way to earn money is to, literally, make it. A master counterfeiter and businessman, Sally is a hedonist with an obscure past who momentarily escapes internment from the Nazis by falsifying passports. He is able to lend his special skills for others willing to pay a price.
Eventually, he finds himself arrested and interned at the hands of police officer Friedrich Herzog who reveals and breaks his forgery ring. Bounced from camp to camp, Sally soars to the top of ‘Holocaust prisoners that sell their souls’ when he utilizes his art skills to paint flattering portraits of Nazi soldiers and their families as well as Nazi-endorsing murals on camp buildings. In a stroke of irony, Sally finds himself in an unlikely position when he is put in charge of a secret currency counterfeiting operation by none other than top Nazi, Friedrich Herzog. In an act of ‘Nazi altruism’ Herzog thanks Sally for the promotion he received as a result of handing over Germany’s “King of Forgers” (think Nazi from “The Pianist”). The currency operation is as controversial and polarizing as Sally himself; proclaimed by the film as history’s largest scale counterfeit ring, it is said to have produced nearly $100 million for the Nazis. Tensions flare among the prisoners of the operation who battle with the self-realization of their privileged positions as well as their fundamental role in continuing the Nazi’s reign of terror.
There are some truly heart-breaking moments in this film but the excellent pacing does well to not linger on any particular scene for too long. It’s not much of a shocker-type movie; you don’t necessarily watch to see what happens to Sally, but rather what he does. His character, filled with flaws and a sardonic sense of humor, is what makes this film more humanizing and interesting to watch than other Holocaust films. Great supporting roles all around, especially with Sally’s surrogate son character, Kolya, (Sebastian Urzendowsky) and the antagonistic Adolf Burger (August Diehl). With it’s grainy film, minimal color saturation, and “400 Blows”-esque beach shots, it’s easy to get entranced in this beautiful and poetic piece. It’s also no surprise that this film took top honors in the Foreign Film category at last year’s Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. That being said, put on your reading glasses and go watch this film. This is one film that even subtitles can’t kill.