The Counterfeiters (Ruzowitzky, 2007) is a film based on the memoirs of a Jewish man, Adolf Berger, who had been incarcerated by the Nazi regime in Germany. It depicts the involvement of Berger and his fellow inmates in a huge counterfeiting scam that the Nazis had hoped would assist destabilize the economies of the allied nations. The film’s director, Stefan Ruzowitzky, aspired to re-create the setting of the counterfeiting scam, which was referred to as Operation Bernhard, in a skillful way so as to eliminate the possibility of being influenced by some earlier contradictory films on the war. He re-examined and re-interpreted the existing evidence in a coherent and convincing manner to enable him shed more light regarding this historical event. This enables him to build his story in a captivating model that enables the audience to easily understand the scenes and events in this film.
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Stefan Ruzowitzky demonstrates proficiency with vital aspects during the making of The Counterfeiters. He chose his production manager and art designers cautiously, and their expertise is evident in the artistic presented by this film. His production manager was Isidor Wimmer, while the art/costume designer was Nicole Fischnaller. The team collaborated in creating a framework that represented their cohesive view of The Counterfeiters. They chose a locale that was easy to transform, making every attempt in ensuring that everything was strategically placed. The film’s feel and the look are enhanced by a careful choice of composition, colors, and shapes for every slot. Ruzowitzky and his team designed their plans effectively before hiring their crew in order to facilitate faster production. The responsibility of Wimmer was to polish the overall appearance of the film. As the director in the art department, he had to set builders right such that Ruzowitzky’s imagination could be turned into a reality much easily. This was to help bring the story to life.
This paper analyzes the mise-en-scene of a scene depicting the discord between the counterfeiters. When Operation Bernhard was conceptualized, the Nazi officers chose a Jewish prisoner and a native of Russia, Salomon Sorowitsch, as its head. Sorowitsch had been arrested for forgery, and the authorities in Germany believed he would be of utility in their plan. The officer in charge of the operation, Major Bernhard Kruger, places him, alongside other inmates with printing and artistic skills, at a special section of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp that is devoted to counterfeiting. Due to their apparent advantage, the counterfeiters are accorded relatively humane treatment such as provision of a weekly showers, civilian clothing, modest lighting, adequate food, sheets and pillows, and comfortable bunks. Analyzing the mise-en-scene that depicts the confrontation between Sorowitsch and Berger gives some useful insight regarding the design process.
The setting of the film commences in France, soon after the Allies’ victory in the Second World War. It opens with a seemingly German man wordlessly and possibly deep in thoughts, arriving at a casino in Monte Carlo. It is important to note that the Monaco’s city of Monte Carlo has been among the leading tourism destinations in Europe, and it is renowned for its extra-ordinarily busy gambling casino. Such a setting portrays Sorowitsch as a wasteful celebrant who took no time to rebuild his life following his extended detention at a Nazi concentration camp. After booking an expensive suite which he pays for in cash, Salomon indulges in Monte Carlo’s high life, taking full advantage of the freedom that he has lacked for many years. Before long, he successfully gambles a huge sum of money which shows that he is not a starter in gambling. This catches the attention of an attractive French woman who later notices that his hand had tattooed numerals. The numerals reveal that he is a survivor of the horrendous concentration camps operated by the Nazis (Ruzowitzky, 2007). Then setting shifts to the city of Berlin in 1936. It characterizes the man, Salomon Sorowitsch as a proficient forger of passports and currency, and his offenses lead to his arrest and incarceration.
The setting elaborates Sorowitsch’s character, which is in most cases seen as driven by pleasure. For example, he plans to escape, but later changes his mind and delays for a night longer to be with a female whom he barely knew. His love of pleasure is emphasized when the film begins with him in a Casino, in the luxurious city of Monte Carlo. Later in the film, he is seen to be motivated by the search for perfection which is unlike the majority of his fellow inmates who see it as their duty to quicken the downfall of the Nazi regime. Sorowitsch brings his wishes into conformity with those of the Nazi officers thereby avoiding friction with the law. His unceasing conformity with the Nazis’ intentions, unlike the other prisoners, is facilitated by his prior criminality. Considering the life of Adolf Berger before his arrest, he lived a relatively morally upright life in Slovakia. He worked as a genuine painter having forged documents only to prevent the extradition of his fellow Jews to the German camps. His hatred for the Nazi regime was deep rooted, having seen his family suffer as a result of its ideology and aggression (Ruzowitzky, 2007).
In The Counterfeiters, the main focus is the forging of the foreign currency. Therefore, the production team sought to make use of the design elements that demonstrated the inmates’ challenges as they undertake their engagement. The lead counterfeiter is manifested as an egocentric yet caring at times. This is because, although he wishes to accomplish his goal of forging the dollar, he chooses not to betray his co-inmates who keep on sabotaging the operation. Ruzowitzky had to form a vivid mental image before delegating its implementation to his production designer. Consequently, Wimmer initial responsibility was to scout for the locales as well as assume the role of supervising the art division during the incorporation of the elements such as costume designs, props, and sets. Moreover, he had to represent the locations in a manner that depicted the historical settings for them to be relevant to the story line. After the production design was completed the art designer, Nicole Fischnaller, cooperated with the film cinematographer in designing the film’s lighting. They employed the use of natural and artificial lighting in an attempt to exhibit a sight that resembled the original setting of the operation. The utilization of natural light was remarkable, especially when Sorowitsch checks for the security features on the pound notes. Basically, the artificial lighting is used during the painting processes such that the counterfeiters’ posture is conducive for their engagements (Eddie, 2007). In some instances, the production team had to use a three-point lighting arrangement with the intension of making the illusion that the light is natural.
The film climaxes with the conflict of interests between Sorowitsch and Berger. Sorowitsch thinks it is wise to abide with the Nazis while Berger believes that an act of sabotage would serve to demoralize the Nazi officers. The design team met the expectations of the audience in a couple of fashions. Firstly, the operation room is gloomy, thus providing a sight that a viewer would expect of a prison. The dark, gloomy setting is also in line with what we would expect of an operation meant to deceive. The manner of lighting is designed to influence our understanding of the characters, especially Sorowitsch. Even before his capture, Sorowitsch has always preferred to stay indoors. Therefore, he adapts to the prison life much easily than his fellow inmates. He is visibly disgusted when his fellow inmates sow discord. Additionally, in his attempt to convince him that sabotage was essential, Berger chooses a darkened location. This is realistic as no audience expects a scene purportedly depicting an open confrontation between prisoners and the Nazi officers at that stage. Furthermore, during their selection, senior Nazi officers meet the potential recruits in a badly lit warehouse (Eddie, 2007). In fact, one of the prisoners emphasizes this secrecy by stating that no one knows what they do, including the commanding officer. In essence, the lighting in the film was carefully applied in order to depict secrecy of the lives of the characters as well as their operations.
Other design element elements that help define the characters include the hair and costume. For example, the design team made sure that even though the counterfeiters are provided with civilian attire, they are not as elegantly dressed as the Nazi officers, as they remain condemnable inmates despite their assistance to the Nazi regime. Their clothes are crumpled, and this indicates that they must have not been new (Alan, 2008). Such a design feature is in accordance with the historical records which explicates that the Jewish inmate civilian clothes used to belong to the gassed prisoners. Moreover, most of them do not fit the prisoners indicating that the officers collected them in a haphazard manner. Majority of the prisoners has wildly unkempt hair. This is in line with what the audience would expect of inmates. What is more, if the counterfeiters are the best kept inmates, then it means that the rest are confined in deplorable conditions.
The Nazi officers’ clothing is remarkably stylish and elegant (Alan, 2008). This is another example where the design team meets the anticipation of the audience. The officers had the means to retain smartness, even in the face of warfare of such magnitude. Had they altered their dressing, their antagonists would have seen this as an act of desperation or a sign of being troubled; and could have possibly instigated dissidence. The film designers ensured that the enlisted men demonstrated privilege and power over the prisoners through their superior attire and tidy hair. To exhibit the importance that the Nazi regime attached to this operation, the counterfeiters are at times provided with aprons when engaging in critical operations. This alters their psychological state making them feel appreciated at least for a moment, and this mood inspires them to perform quality work. In The Counterfeiters, various design elements interacts with one another to effectively reduce discordance in the film. The elements act together in a manner that evokes melancholy that the prisoners experienced during their incarceration at the camp. This careful interaction of the design elements helps in bring the director’s story to life.
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