Best foreign language film

It happens on every Academy Awards night. Amid all the red carpet hoopla and best picture predicting, we discover the names of some worthwhile movies that seem to have slipped through the cracks.

We make a mental note to catch these films, admirable efforts that tend to be nominated in categories such as best documentary or best foreign language film.

Consider this review a reminder: The Counterfeiters, winner of this year's Oscar for best foreign language film, opens at the Rialto on Thursday.

The Counterfeiters is technically a Holocaust movie, but one that focuses on a very specific, little known story about that horrifying era in world history.

In a concentration camp called Sachsenhausen, a small group of prisoners - including a forgery master played by Karl Markovics - have been recruited to participate in Operation Bernhard, an attempt to print counterfeit British and American currency as part of a top-secret Nazi mission.

To keep their charges motivated, the SS officers give them perks that aren't provided to most: comfortable beds, decent meals, even a ping-pong table.

The guilt that comes from having these luxuries while their fellow Jews suffer - not to mention the moral dilemmas that inevitably arise from assisting the very organisation responsible for committing atrocities against the Jewish people - are just some of the complexities the movie tackles.

The Counterfeiters depicts the profound pain, loss and dehumanisation experienced by the prisoners, sometimes in harrowing fashion.

But, strange as it may sound, the movie also manages to be entertaining.

For men like Adolf Burger, author of the memoirs that inspired The Counterfeiters and a central character (played by August Diehl) in the picture, the paradox of sleeping on fresh white linens while facing potential execution at the hands of the Nazis was very real.

As he puts it: "We were dead men on holiday. We never expected to walk away alive from this secret operation."

But Burger did. And this month, the survivor will celebrate his 91st birthday.

- Jen Chaney 

The Counterfeiters opens at Rialto Cinemas on Thursday.

 

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