Concentration camp with shower

Stefan Ruzowitzky’s "The false ones" does without salon Nazis, but here too, Jews are better at trickery and deception

Stefan Ruzowitzky’s "The Wrong" is not the first concentration camp film. But one of the most unusual. For he shows the exception to the rule: prisoners who were well-fed and hygienically housed, whose survival the Nazis strove to prevent. For the titular "False" were experts in the field of money and document forgery. The Nazi regime formed a special unit out of them, whose main purpose was the production of false foreign currency for the war effort. The dilemma: After successful falsification, they face certain death – if only for reasons of secrecy. The film, which is conventional in its way of making, asks more good questions about history and cinema than it finds the right answers, an interesting film worth seeing, with considerable shortcomings.

Not everything is successful in Stefan Ruzowitzky’s film, but before any criticism, it must be said that "The counterfeiters" is one of the most exciting and interesting of the feature films that have been made in recent years to tell the stories of the National Socialist era. No less than in "The Downfall" or "Sophie Scholl" Here, actual events are faithfully recounted, but in contrast to the last days in the Fuhrerbunker and Gestapo cellar, the protagonists are not world-famous.

And didactics, argumentation of political and moral points of view, Napola, etc. are not used "seriously" and debates, even between victims and perpetrators, such as those in "The ninth day" and "Napola" as if there were any serious need for discussion here, as if there could be any arguments for genocide and war crimes that were somehow worthy of consideration, the director dispenses entirely with. Perhaps because he is Austrian, Ruzowitzky ("Anatomy", "All the kings men", "Anatomy 2") The film is for the most part pleasantly distanced from the kind of thematic approach practiced by German cinema of all kinds with its Salonnazis and Melowiderstandlern: It shows criminals simply as criminals, and their victims, conversely, do not have to be particularly good people for racism and willkur to become injustice, for it to be forbidden to harass them, torture them, put them to death, and so on.

"Better to be gassed tomorrow than shot today"

The facts of the National Socialist "Bernhard Company", The facts underlying the film are, at first glance, only unbelievable, before they captivate the viewer more and more: From 1942 to 1945, the SS maintained a professional forgery workshop in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, to which prisoners with special talents, from painters to bankers, from printing experts and chemists to professional money forgers, were recruited.

They were kept in comparatively privileged conditions – penal clothing, good food, water, soap – but in case of non-compliance they were threatened with prompt execution, just as, paradoxically, in case of ultimate success – which is why they were kept among concentration camp prisoners in the first place. For the task, in addition to the production of false identity cards, forms and stamps, was primarily the "secret Reich matter" the falsification of foreign truths in order to provide the Nazi regime with foreign currency, which was scarce during the war but all the more urgently needed, and at the same time to destabilize the protection of the wartime enemies. The biggest coup was achieved in 1944 with the perfect counterfeiting of British pound notes in the hundreds of millions. The production of counterfeit U.S. dollars, on the other hand, succeeded only shortly before the end of the war – too late for the "Final Victory", especially because the prisoners themselves sabotaged their progress in order not to play into the hands of their potential murderers.

This exciting story is told in the film through three characters: at the center is Solly Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), a mischievous bon vivant who before the war had been known as the "Berlin counterfeit conig" and is at least modeled on a real person named Smolyanov. He says "Better to be gassed tomorrow than shot today. … I will not give the Nazis the pleasure that I am ashamed that I am still alive" and also stands morally in the middle between two extremists of different kinds: the SS man Herzog, brilliantly played by Devid Striesow, who puts on his character as a charming devil, between joviality and sadism. And the communist printer Adolf Burger (August Diehl), who wants to sabotage the dollar printing at any cost and is even ready to die for it.

The conflict between the opportunist Sorowitsch and the idealist Burger, the question of whether one can pay the price of cooperating with the Nazis for one’s own survival, forms the moral focus of the film, played out in conversations between the characters. However, it is not really decided, the end of the war takes care of that. In this context, the conflict between prisoners, perhaps to the point of mutual death, would be interesting and ultimately the only possible consequence, both aesthetically and morally.

The basic dilemma of the concentration camp film: what to show? And how to show it?

Again and again a basic conflict is recognizable in the staging instead. For Ruzowitzky was clearly very interested in staging the adventurous and exciting aspects of the events and in making a classic genre film about the concentration camp. This is especially noticeable in the images (camera: Benedict Neuenfels): Without being cold or becoming exploitation, they never slip into the aesthetics of consternation "more valuable" or "gentle" pictures from. Everything is a little bit raw and wild, sometimes dirty.

For how I just didn’t want to do it, there were many models: I wanted to get away from the visual cliches: desaturated colors, blue-gray, that often looks like fancy advertising aesthetics. I also find any mainstream slickness here inappropriate: When everything is perfectly lit. The film was supposed to look like a reportage, to have something direct about it.

Stefan Ruzowitzky

With ingenuity Ruzowitzky also tells especially the bizarre details of the everyday life of the Falscher group in the concentration camp: a ping-pong table served as entertainment, as well as carnival evenings, where the prisoners were also responsible for entertainment performances in front of the Nazi officers, while constant operetta sprinkling was used above all to build a wall of arms between the Falscher workshop and the rest of the concentration camp.

But to concentrate entirely on the adventure film, which was made in "The Counterfeiters" Ruzowitzky unfortunately did not dare to do so, and that is why the film runs out of steam after about an hour. Instead, also "The Falscher" to the basic dilemma of the concentration camp film – What can be shown?? And how to show it? – The film, however, does not go down on its knees and thus ultimately confirms some of its critics: time and again, the film makes its moral standpoint all too eagerly clear, emphasizes the concentration camp as a place of horror and death, and portrays the suffering of the people as naturalistically as it tries to do so. But he does not show all this.

By telling us the story of a special case in the concentration camp and hiding the normal case from us, the film erects a protective fence for us viewers as well. The concentration camp becomes a normal prison, "The Wrong" to a normal prison film with different types of prisoners and their relationships, sometimes tense, sometimes marked by man rituals and prison morals. Although female "man", what happened, but you don’t have to know it, and because you are not forced to remember and visualize it, you can quickly forget it.

The concentration camp as a moral reformatory?

Instead "The Wrong" more than once into the blandness of a sentimentalizing melodrama. This includes the rather anxious and, in principle, overly calculating women who are introduced at the beginning, a "typical 20s"-Dance scene and two bits of sex. This can all be wonderfully cut into the trailers, awakens "Cabaret"-associations and keep the audience in suspense for the time being, while the all too clear concentration camp tristesse rather put them into a toxic depression at the box office. And yet one notices Ruzowitzky’s lack of interest in this introduction, catches himself wishing that the film would get down to business, that the main character would finally be sent to a concentration camp – whether that is the purpose of the whole thing?

In addition, above all, the narrative bracket, which right at the beginning shows Sorowitsch as a concentration camp survivor after the end of the war on the beach of Monte Carlo, and thus with the suspense of the survival question from the adventure film immediately lets out the biggest part of the air. And at the end, the wrong man has to gamble away the millions he brought with him in one night – German cinema has not yet been able to come to terms with the moral ambivalence that a victim can simply be and remain a small-time gangster who makes a wonderful lottery life out of dirty money. Thus – clearly against the will of the director – the concentration camp appears a little as a moral reformatory: the Jew, in order to be allowed to live on in German cinema, must be a good Jew or at least have learned something for life from the Germans.

On closer inspection, everything else is teeming with stereotypes, which might not have been a bad thing if the film had been aware of them, played with them, ironized them or exhibited them. But nothing there: The Jews as intellectuals, gentle spirits and, above all, as opportunistic survivors with crooked morals. "You Jews: trick and fake, you could do that." This is said not only by a Nazi in the film, but also by the film itself. The proles are naturally the more capable, on the streets one learns how to assert oneself. While the communist can talk a lot and is more alienated from his class than he is from his class "bourgeois remnant" (Engels) appears, which does not want to get its hands dirty. Those of the prole have always been. And in the end it remains obszon, when at the end actors portray emaciated concentration camp prisoners.

The murderer as a modern manager

Only Devid Striesow as SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer, who is so brilliant here that one always has to repeat it, makes the whole thing stand out. And the script has also put the better sentences into his mouth: "Menschenfuhrung – a very rough theme of the future." Or: "If you treat people like dirt, they won’t perform." Or: "I never beat my children … the power of the word … show them the right thing to do." Or he simply begins a speech with "Love Jews!". The murderer as a modern manager, soft father and motivational coach – that’s where the film actually wants to be and should be much more often: In the present. And the concentration camp is a machine for increasing efficiency, a capitalist factory, a technical institution for the production of certain commercial goods.

In detail, as I said, there are some things to criticize. But for the first time, Ruzowitzky asks German cinema the right questions on this subject: Why, in the land of Fritz Lang, Friedrich Murnau and Robert Siodmak, don’t they finally tell us about the Nazis in the form of a thriller, a horror film, a psychological thriller or a fairy tale?? Why does it always have to be a zealous historical re-enactment?? Where is a concentration camp grotesque that sits well in the biting wit as Lina Wertmuller already did in the 70s?? Why is there "Pan’s Labyrinth" (cf. Alice in Horrorland) about Franco’s Spain, but not about Hitler’s Germany? Someday in the distant future, for sure "The Falscher" at least an indication, this defect will be corrected.