Posted at 8:55 PM on February 18, 2008
by Euan Kerr
Stefan Ruzowitzky says his fellow Austrians don't get very excited about the movies made in their homeland, but the Oscars, well that's something different. He says since his movie "The Counterfeiters" got the nod as one of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Oscar, Austrians are suddenly paying attention.
This is probably good, because "The Counterfeiters" is well worth watching. It's the story of the largest counterfeiting operation ever mounted. Late in World War II the Nazis gathered a group of highly talented men, all Jews, in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and set them to work forging first British pounds and then US dollars. The Nazis planned to flood Britain and the US with worthless notes and bring their economies crashing down, turning the tide of the war.
The men were kept separate from the rest of the prisoners in the camp, and given special privileges. Yet they faced the possibility of death at anytime. They knew what was happening just outside their 'Golden Cage' as they called it in Sachsenhausen, as well as what was likely happening to their families. They wrestled with the idea that they were serving the people who were killing their families, in order to survive themselves.
As director and screenwriter Ruzowitsky has created a complex moral portrait based on an account by Adolph Burger, one of the men who lived and worked in "Operation Bernhard" as it was called.
I learned much of the finer details of the film in a stairwell at the Twin Cities International airport, which turned out to be the only place we were able to conduct an interview as Ruzowitsky passed through town today.
He's a charming fellow, clearly enjoying the Oscar ride. Now he says the challenge is to take the opportunities his ten minutes of fame might supply, and select the right one.
We'll air the interview soon.