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The Counterfeiters

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R (For Some Strong Violence, Brief Sexuality/Nudity and Language)

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Starring: Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Marie Baumer, Martin Brambach and Dolores Chaplin

Written and Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky

 

Studio: Sony

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Stefan Ruzowitzky, The Making Of The Counterfeiters, Interviews, Adolf Burger's Artifacts, Q&A With Director Stefan Ruzowitzky, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, German Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Scene Selections (28 Scenes)

Released: August 5th, 2008


 

 

"The Counterfeiters" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it's a strong and gritty transfer. Other than some edge halos, which have more of a presence then I would have liked, and a few dirt pieces and blemishes, there is a lot to like here. Detail is exquisite, fleshtones hit their marks and color saturation is well defined. Tones and hues look pretty natural in certain parts of the movie, but for the majority of it - in the concentration camp - colors are undersaturated and bleak. The grays here, in addition to the movie's soft look, adds to the emotional punch of the isolation and horrors. The fine grain stands out, too. Given the movie's story and themes, and how it's not all pretty, this transfer plays to that and does it justice.  


 

A German Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is provided for "The Counterfeiters," and it's quite good. Dialogue is always clear and easy to hear, while the opera music and score from Marius Ruhland are mixed well through the speakers - which gives the movie more of a sonic backbone. Fidelity is pretty high, dynamic range is above average and subwoofer use is better than I anticipated - bass is definitely deep on this track. Surrounds are pretty discrete and well stated too; the film is often filled with tension but there are some moments with strong violence that don't leave much to the imagination. Like the transfer, this sound mix captures and does justice to the film's horrors and bleak overtones.

Subtitles in English, French and Spanish are included, plus a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in French.
 




There's a very informative Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Stefan Ruzowitzky that gives a great overview of the film. Ruzowitzky is very chatty, and covers pretty much everything you would want to know: location shooting, the cast (fun and slightly disturbing fact: Dolores Chapman wore her grandmother's undergarments for a scene), rehearsals technical challenges and the like. Most fascinating to me though was when Ruzowitzky touched upon crafting the script, and him working with Adolf Burger, who's life and book served as a guide for the story. I was very impressed in how Ruzowitzky stays screen-specific, all while talking up different aspects of the scenes. This is a very strong overview of the movie, and one of the best commentaries I have listened to in a long time. If you liked the movie, then I highly recommend re-visitng it with Ruzowitzky's comments.

The 10 minute Making The Counterfeiters is a great little piece. Some of Ruzowitzky's comments understandably overlap with what he says in his commentary, and the cast also talk about the film and their characters. But the real highlight is seeing parts of the lecture Adolf Burger gives to students, and talking a bit about his own life. Well worth a watch.

Also worth watching are three Interviews - one with Ruzowitzky, one with actor Karl Markovics and the other with Adolf Burger. Ruzowitzky talks about how he got to make the film, developing the script from Burger's book, the challenges of pre-production, casting and shooting difficult scenes. Markovics talks about his reactions to the script, researching the character and making the movie. Most interesting though is the interview with Burger, who tells key parts of his life and shows off some personal mementos. Taken together, this is about 38 minutes of material.

A real treat is the nearly-20 minute featurette Adolf Burger's Artifacts. In a way, it's like hearing a truncated version of Burger's famed lecture - and it really puts the movie in historical perspective. Burger discusses what he counterfeited while in a concentration camp, and even has a map to highlight how the camp was layered. Burger also shows off photos (some pretty horrifying), stamps, bank notes, maps and even a few newspaper clippings (plus his book). This is a must watch. 

If you can't get enough of the movie's writer/director, then you'll be happy to know there's a Q&A Session with Mr. Ruzowitzky, running 13 minutes and 15 seconds. Taken from AFI Fest, it's a strong session but some of the information is repetetive when put with other features on this DVD. Ruzowitzky discusses working with the cast, writing the screenplay, changes that had to be made in the script, not filming at the actual concentration camp where the film takes place and what happened to the real Salomon Sorowitsch. Despite some comments that may seem familiar if you sat through everything else, there is enough new information here - especially when it comes to Ruzowitzky placing his film in context in relation to Germany and other movies about the Holocaust.

Rounding the disc off are four Deleted Scenes that total less than 4 minutes, and the original Theatrical Trailer

 

"The Counterfeiters" is a gripping survivor's tale and character study, and was certainly worthy of the Best Foreign Film Oscar. The DVD does not disappoint either, with a great presentation of the film and very insightful supplements with a fine emphasis on its production and historical context. It definitely belongs in any film lover's collection, or makes for a very good rental otherwise.