Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for violence, profanity and nudity
Run Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. In Russian and German with English subtitles
Oscar’s Best Foreign Film winner plays the concentration camp drama to dynamic effect.
Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) is a counterfeiter extraordinaire, a Russian Jew who’s the best in the business. False passports and documents are all in a day’s work until Sorowitsch’s confidence gets the better of him and the Nazis come calling, sentencing him to the Sachsenhausen labor camp in Berlin.
The Germans amass a large crew of Europe’s most skilled laborers at Sachsenhausen – graphic artists, printers, copper engravers, etc. – with the concept of forging their own English pounds and American dollars and destabilizing those economies by flooding their markets with bogus bucks.
The prisoners are stuck between a rock and a hard place as Operation Bernhard unfolds. Supporting the Nazi war effort is inconceivable but cooperation, and survival, is the inmates’ psychological trump card.
An ethical tug of war is the crux of the camp’s infrastructure as the prisoners battle one another for moral high ground while struggling with harsh conditions and the day to day reality of exhaustion and malnutrition. Sorowitsch plays to win, pitting him against his idealistic colleagues but placing him firmly in favor with the powers that be.
There’s not a lot of fresh ground to cover but what there is is crafted with exacting detail and fervor. The incessant rash of indignities are rough going and the German hypocrisy a bitter pill to swallow, in particular that of sinister Sturmbannführer Friedrich Herzog (Devid Striesow) who befriends Sorowitsch yet can’t separate his own “good” deeds from the atrocities he rains down on his captives.
Markovics is a gem – the conviction of his staunch refusal to allow the Germans to crush him the impetus behind this compelling import.