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HOLOCAUST DRAMA TELLS MOVING STORY.

Byline: Glenn Whipp

Film Critic

"Jews adapt." That's the working philosophy held by Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), and it's a conviction that gets shaken to its core in "The Counterfeiters," a smart, stark examination of the moral dilemma faced by a specialized group of concentration camp prisoners in the waning days of World War II.

This Austrian import premiered last February at the Berlin Film Festival, and is really the only foreign-language film in this year's Oscar-nominated crop to have any kind of stateside profile.

Its subject matter and strong lead performance almost guarantee an academy victory on Sunday in a category notably weakened by the exclusion of such films as "The Band's Visit," "Persepolis" and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days."

"The Counterfeiters" is loosely based on Adolf Burger's memoir about a group of Jewish prisoners at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp charged with forging the perfect dollar bill and pound note.

Tagged Operation Bernhard, it was a late-game, desperate attempt by the Nazis to destabilize their enemies' economies with a flood of funny money.

The men involved in this operation were housed in separate barracks with soft beds, decent food and, most significantly, a chance to survive. The alternative was never far from mind. Just behind a wood fence, these men could hear gruesome executions and painful screams from prisoners with no say in their future.

The situation affords Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky the opportunity to explore both survival and the guilt that comes with hanging on while others suffer horribly. The pragmatic Salomon, an expert counterfeiter, argues that you do what you must do, while communist agitator Burger (August Diehl) counters with the undeniable truth that by helping the Nazis, they are prolonging the war and enabling further suffering.

Ruzowitzky refreshingly keeps the movie free from any pat answers, letting the audience members imagine what course of action they might take in similar circumstances.

Playing the career criminal ringleader, Markovics conveys a steely resolve tempered by the tragedies he has witnessed. It's a layered, compelling performance in a complex movie certain to spark a fair share of debate.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp@dailynews.com

THE COUNTERFEITERS - Three stars

>R: strong violence, brief sexuality, language.

>Starring: Karl Markovics, August Diehl.

>Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky.

>Running time: 1 hr. 38 min.

>Playing: Laemmle's Town Center 5 in Encino; Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena; Laemmle's Royal in West Los Angeles.

>In a nutshell: Smart, stark Holocaust tale about survival and the guilt that comes with it. In German with English subtitles.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Karl Markovics is a counterfeiter looking to survive incarceration.
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Title Annotation:LA.COM
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 22, 2008
Words:435
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