For a film about the largest forgery operation in history, “The Counterfeiters” has collected some very real box office coin following its 2007 Oscar win for top foreign language pic. The Austrian-German co-production grossed nearly $17.5 million worldwide and now this gripping Holocaust tale comes to DVD with a robust special features package that proves both entertaining and educational.
Sony Pictures Classics has given top treatment to Austrian writer-director Stefan Ruzowitzky’s compelling survival tale, providing this new homevid entry with stronger-than-average extras compared to most foreign releases.
Commentary by Ruzowitzky is in English with subtitles, making it easy to understand and to follow his train of thought as he narrates the action. The filmmaker explains what attracted him to main character Salomon Sorowitsch (the real name was Smolianoff, but many of the names had to be changed for legal reasons). Ruzowitzky was drawn to the master counterfeiter, who spent four years in prison even before Hitler came to power, and explains why it was easier for certain criminals to survive rather than intellectuals such as Bruno Bettelheim and Primo Levy.
The 10-minute “Making of The Counterfeiters” — in German with subtitles –includes a brief background on Operation Bernhard, the official name of the Nazi war effort to flood Britain with fake bank notes, thereby destroying its economy. Over 130 million pounds sterling were produced by the 143 inmates in barracks 18 and 19 of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany.
Interviews with Ruzowitzky, survivor and script consultant Adolf Burger (upon whose book “The Devil’s Workshop” the film is based on), and lead actor Karl Markowitz (who plays Sorowitsch) provide more context to the historical events and the making of the film. Both Ruzowitzky and Markowitz explain why “The Counterfeiters” has been less well-received in Germany and Austria.
Their theory: These two countries don’t like combining entertainment with serious political statements, something Markowitz refers to as “cultural snobbism.” Running time for all three interviews is 38 minutes.
“Adolf Burger’s Historical Artifacts” is the most interesting extra. The 90-year-old Burger’s tale of survival is perhaps even more fascinating than the movie’s main character.
Highlights of the 20-minute feature include his story of why he collected over 200 documents after the war, as an evidential reply to Neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers. Other highlights include his description of how they sabotaged the printing of American dollars and the striking comparisons of his time living in the horse stables of Auschwitz-Birkenau (as many as 800 prisoners were housed in each stable) to the relative luxury of Sachsenhausen (individual beds with white linens and pillows).
Other extras include a 13-minute Q&A session with Ruzowitzky at the 2007 AFI Fest, four minutes of deleted scenes, the original theatrical trailer and previews.