Nothing fake about 'Counterfeiters'

  • Article by: RANDY A. SALAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 2, 2008 - 3:36 PM

The Oscar-winning foreign film recounts the true story of Jews who were forced to make bogus money for the Nazis.

New foreign films tend to get short shrift on DVD, especially when they're issued by a major studio. But "The Counterfeiters" is not a typical case. The Austrian/German production won the Oscar earlier this year for best foreign-language film. And Sony has given above-average treatment to the DVD ($29) and Blu-ray release ($39) coming out Tuesday.

Based on actual events, "The Counterfeiters" recounts the tale of Salomon (Sally) Sorowitsch, Germany's foremost counterfeiter -- and a Jew. When he is apprehended, the Nazis place him in a concentration camp, where his dabbling in art earns him favors.

Soon, he's transferred to another camp, where his captors have assembled an all-star cast of criminals, craftsmen and other specialists. Their task: manufacture fake British pound notes and U.S. dollars to help the bankrupt Nazis. In return, they are given special treatment and shielded somewhat from the horrors faced by the detainees in unseen parts of the prison camp.

This creates a dilemma for even a hardened criminal such as Sally (Karl Markovics). His pride as a world-renowned counterfeiter compels him to produce flawless work, but the results aid the Nazi war effort. He's continually pressured by fellow prisoners to sabotage their counterfeiting work, but their well-being -- and even their lives -- hinges on being productive.

Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky touches on these aspects of the story, the making of the film and more in his catch-all commentary on the disc. He speaks in English, even though "The Counterfeiters" is a German-language film. (There also are French and English dubs.)

Ruzowitzky, who also wrote the script, refers frequently to how he fictionalized some elements for good storytelling.

"The movie is not a documentary, but it is a feature film," he says. "And, of course, I did change a lot to adapt the story to the screen." But, he adds, "overall, the movie has to be truthful."

The extras are a showcase for Ruzowitzky, who also contributes an interview segment and a question-and-answer session before an audience at an American Film Institute screening. Other supplements -- some in German with English subtitles -- include interviews with Markovics and counterfeiter and Holocaust survivor Adolf Burger, a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

Unfortunately for those watching the Blu-ray version, the extras are presented in a jarring standard resolution that also departs from the high-def disc's elegant menu design. But the contents remain compelling.

"The Counterfeiters" is a remarkable Holocaust film that doesn't offer clear choices between right and wrong, even when lives are at stake. Here's hoping that its well-deserved Oscar will help it find a wider audience on DVD.

Digital bits

Thanks to the popularity of the new "Get Smart" movie in theaters ($180 million earned worldwide so far), the 1960s TV series that inspired it finally will be available in stores Tuesday. Better yet, the four-disc first-season set from HBO retails for only $25. Other sets are sure to follow. If you can't wait, Time Life (www.timelife.com) still sells the entire five-season run for $200, by mail order only.

Last week one of the great western miniseries, "Centennial," debuted on DVD. This week the other great one, "Lonesome Dove," returns. Tuesday's two-disc reissue (Genius/RHI, $20) contains new bonus material, including a 50-minute retrospective. It also comes in a fancy gift set with collectibles ($40) and in a high-def presentation on Blu-ray ($40).

The second season of "Star Trek: The Original Series" (Paramount, $85) comes out Tuesday in the remastered version that features pristine audio-video quality and updated special effects. Paramount has already announced a Nov. 18 release for the third season. What it hasn't announced is when all three seasons will be available on Blu-ray. The first remastered season came out on HD DVD before that high-def format went belly up. Something tells me we'll know by the holiday season when the original Enterprise will boldly go onto Blu-ray.

Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542.

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