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Thursday, June 25, 2009


While it’s a truism that WWII Holocaust-themed projects are easy Oscar-bait, don’t hold its Best Foreign Language Picture Award against this generally fine film about a Nazi counterfeiting scam (British Bank Notes & American Dollars) that was designed to destabilize the world currency. The fact-based gimmick is that the operation was largely staffed with artisan Jewish prisoners held in a privileged unit inside a Concentration Camp. And the indispensable man needed to make it work was Germany’s top forger from the days before the war, Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics). The moral dilemma is not so far removed from the British POWs in THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI/’57 who also kept themselves alive by aiding the enemy? How much effort is too much effort? When does sabotage turn into suicide? And what is the moral price of exceeding the expectations of the sadistic jailers who hold your life in their hands? Writer/director Stefan Ruzowitsky makes too many obvious choices, but he is unexpectedly strong at detailing the self-justifying insanity that turned so many Germans into enthusiastic Nazis. A moment with the camp commandant’s family shows a level of willful ignorance that can still shock after all these years and hundreds of films on the subject. The final sequence, set in a Monte Carlo casino shortly after the war has ended, rounds things off a bit too neatly. But perhaps this ironic coda is true. It’s nice to think so.

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