THE FORGER (Der Passfälcher)
Reviewed for FilmFactual.com and BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten.
Director: Maggie Peren
Screenwriter: Maggie Peren, Cioma Schönhaus
Cast: Louis Hofmann, Jonathan Berlin, Luna Wedler, Nina Gummich, André Jung, Marc Limpach, Yotam Ishay, Luc Feit
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/10/23
Opens: March 3, 2023
If films about the Holocaust never get old, one reason may be that new ideas come out of filmmakers all the time. With “The Forger,” director Maggie Peren—whose “Hello Again: A Wedding Day,” appears to come from a woman who takes on more than an epic tale of murder and deception—affords us some surprisingly cheery scenes as though to make up for danger. The film is true-to-life about a young man who had allowed some three hundred Jews to escape the deadly journey East by forging ID cards. This fellow, Cioma Schönhaus (Louis Hofmann), recalls the even more audacious heroism of Chiune Sugihara, who, assigned by the Japanese government as consul to Lithuania, knocks out transit visas for six thousand Jews, carrying on this activity despite being ordered to stop.
Though his parents had been deported and murdered, Schönhaus is able to avoid arrest because of his work in a munitions factory, a deal which recalls Oskar Schindler, a high-level Nazi, who saved 1,100 Jews by allowing them to work in his armaments factory. Schönhaus is audacious enough to hide in plain sight, never the victim, taking the tram despite its being forbidden to Jews. It helps that he is blond and blue-eyed, seems not required to wear a patch with the Star of David, and in one of the drama’s comic scenes gets himself a haircut in the SS Waffen style. In one scene he, together with his friend Det Kassriel, dresses in a discarded naval uniform, which has cache with the young women. At the same time, this free spirit is so laid-back that he oversleeps one morning, though how could he not? having spent the night with the beautiful Gerda (Luna Wedler), and is fired.
Since he had been trained in 1929 as a graphic designer, he is enlisted by Franz Kaufmann (Marc Limpach), a member of the Protestant church and a former civil servant, in forging documents to allow Jews to avoid deportation. Schönhaut uses his talents while Det alters women’s dresses in return for food and rations. Together they indulge in the high life, their favorite places being a dinner-dance establishment where Schönhaus meets the independent-minded Gerda, and a high-end restaurant where he wines and dines his new girlfriend.
Clever well beyond his years, he avoids arrest by two agents who would have caught him without proper documents. As they approach, Schönhaus confronts a man sitting next to him, loudly asking why he is not fighting at the front. He convinces the authorities by pulling rank on them, persuading them to hand over their ID’s, thereby saving his neck.
Happily there is little music drowning out the dialogue, though we hear part of a klezmer tune near the conclusion when things are looking up for Schönhaus. Director Peren have concluded the tale by showing the young man bicycling from Berlin to Switzerland, where he in 2004 wrote his memoir “The Forger” and lived a full life until 2015.
116 minutes. © 2023 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+