Friday, June 02, 2023

Der Passfälscher / The Forger

Maggie Peren: Der Passfälscher / The Forger (DE/LU 2022) starring Louis Hofmann as Cioma Schönhaus.

Väärentäjä / Förfalskaren.
    DE/LU © 2022 Dreifilm GmbH, Amour Fou Luxembourg sàrl mit Network Movie Film- und Fernsehproduktion GmbH & Co. KG, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) (Mainz) und Arte Deutschland TV GmbH (Ettelbrück). P: Alexander Fritzemeyer, Martin Kosok mit Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu, Bady Minck, Dietrich Kluge, Jutta Lieck-Klenke.
    D+SC: Maggie Peren – based on the memoir by Cioma Schönhaus: Der Passfälscher. Die unglaubliche Geschichte eines jungen Grafikers, der im Untergrund gegen die Nazis kämpfte. Hrsg. von Marion Neiss. Scherz Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-502-15688-3. DP: Christian Stangassinger – colour – 2.39:1 – shooting format: Digital AlexaMiniLF ProRes S35 16:9 3.2K – Verleih digital. Szenenbild: Eva-Maria Stiebler. Costume designer: Diana Dietrich. Make-up: Katja Alexis-Reinert. M: Mario Grigorov. M supervision: Superstrings, Carolin Heiss. S: André Bendocchi-Alves. Mixeur: Loïc Collignon. ED: Robert Sterna. Casting: An Dorthe Braker, Karimah El-Giamal, Bady Minck. C:
    Louis Hofmann – Cioma
    Jonathan Berlin – Det Kassriel
    Luna Wedler – Gerda
    Nina Gummich – Frau Peters
    André Jung – Herr Dietrich
    Marc Limpach – Franz Kaufmann
Dreharbeiten: 18 Jan–2 March 2021 Bayern und Luxemburg.
    Loc: Bavaria Filmstadt – Villa Höppner, Haus Kreitmeier (Munich/DE), Parktheater im Kurhaus Göggingen (Augsburg/DE), Arcelor Mittal Schifflange (LU), Epicerie (LU), Café du Viaduc (LU), Casemates (LU), By Jaco (LU) Centre de la Croix Rouge (LU), Fond de Gras/Minettpark (LU).
    Language: German
    116 min
    Erstverleih: Z Verleih AG (Berlin).
    US distributor: Kino Lorber.
    Uraufführung: 13 Feb 2022 Berlin International Film Festival Special.
    Luxembourg festival premiere: 4 March 2022 Luxembourg City Film Festival.
    Kinostart Deutschland: 13 Oct 2022.
    Finnish premiere: 2 June 2023 – released by Future Film, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Samuli Kauppila / Michaela Palmberg.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 4, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 2 June 2023.

New edition to the 2004 book: Cioma Schönhaus: Der Passfälscher : die unglaubliche Geschichte eines jungen Grafikers, der im Untergrund gegen die Nazis kämpfte : mit Zeichnungen des Autors, bearbeitet, mit einem Nachwort versehen und herausgegeben von Marion Neiss, Frankfurt am Main : Fischer Taschenbuch, Februar 2022, ISBN 978-3-596-16446-2

NB. The Finnish title Väärentäjä was also used for another recent Holocaust movie, Die Fälscher (AT/DE 2007, D: Stefan Ruzowitzky), about Operation Bernhard, the most massive money counterfeiting operation in history.

AA: Among films about the Holocaust, The Forger is exceptional. It is based on a true story, published by the protagonist Cioma Schönhaus himself (1922–2015) in 2004. To the festival premiere in 2022 it was republished in a new edition.

It is a story of chutzpah (audacity): in wartime Berlin, during the Holocaust, Cioma survives in his parents' apartment, works in the arms industry, and acts normally, ignoring the yellow star, riding the bus and eating in the best restaurant.

Cioma has studied arts and crafts, he is a skilled graphic artist, and so he starts to get assignments to forge documents, including passports, thus saving the lives of 300 persecuted Jews, even finally himself.

But the theme of forgery expands to a much wider field of behaviour. Cioma and his friends themselves speak of mimicry – the capability of a creature of nature of assuming the appearance of its predator. Cioma's best friend Det Kassriel is a tailor, and they create Kriegsmarine uniforms for themselves. The success is complete as long as they keep their sang-froid.

Even without uniforms Cioma learns to master the situation. The most astounding scene is at the Fundbüro when people lined up to pawn their belongings land into a razzia of the police wanting to check their Personalausweise. Cioma is carrying no document, and so he assumes the attitude of a higher police officer and asks the policemen to show their papers, instead. An ingenious variation of the story of the Hauptmann von Köpenick, famous from the play by Carl Zuckmayer and others.

The theme of mimicry and playing the part of the enemy reminds me also of Charles Chaplin in The Great Dictator and Ernst Lubitsch in To Be Or Not To Be.

It is a miraculous survival story but not a story of heroes and villains. It is also a merciless story about abuse, egoism, opportunism and cynicism. I am also thinking about Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair and Stalag 17. Maggie Peren, the writer-director, moves on the same levels of complexity and audacity, but reaches a higher sense of maturity.

The situation is rigged to turn people into each other's enemies, but Maggie Peren and her actors see more in them. Human relationships are mercenary but also something beyond. Tenderness is genuine. Tradeoffs can lead to something else. There is a shortage of young male attention. Maggie Peren knows how to portray female desire subtly. Attractions can be surprising.

I was not looking forward to this film, fearing it to be yet another entry in the Shoah business. There have been many films on the topic in recent years that seem partly exploitative. With The Forger, I was happily surprised. It is among the best.


CINEMA AND THE HOLOCAUST. Claude Lanzmann's Shoah is for me the supreme achievement in the "mission impossible" of expressing the inexpressible. Nothing is shown, yet everything becomes vivid and unforgettable.
    The original footage by George Stevens and Samuel Fuller, the material in Todesmühlen and Memory of the Camps, and in Alain Resnais's Nuit et brouillard, are of primary value.
    The NBC series Holocaust (Gerald Green / Marvin J. Chomsky, 1978) and Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List belong to the films that have most changed awareness of history.
    Mark Donskoi's The Unvanquished, Wanda Jakubowska's The Last Stage, Andrzej Munk's Pasazerka, Vittorio De Sica's I giardino dei Finzi Contini, Louis Malle's Au revoir les enfants, István Szabó's Bizalom and Sunshine, Taru Mäkelä's David, Roman Polanski's The Pianist and Lajos Koltai's Fateless reach high levels.
    Some of the best films about the Holocaust are of recent vintage: Sergei Loznitsa's Babi Yar Context and Ken Burns's devastating U.S. and the Holocaust, both from last year (2022).
    For me, Maggie Peren's Der Passfälscher belongs to this league of the finest.

P.S. Viewers may find Cioma's chutzpah unbelievable, but I find the account of the young man's sang-froid and derring-do credible.

I recently read the memoirs of Boris Grünstein (1917–1992): Jude i Finland : galghumoristiska berättelser [A Jew in Finland : Gallows Humoristic Tales] (Söderström 1988).

In the 1930s, Finland's extreme right wing was vocally antisemitic. Even highly cultured, traditionally Germanophilic circles were often prone to Hitler admiration.

During Operation Barbarossa, Grünstein served in the Finnish Defence Forces, which was allied with the Wehrmacht. While stationed in the port town Hanko, Grünstein got to experience the threatening presence of Finnish SS men returning from the Ukraine bloodlands.

The young Grünstein was fearless. Only in his mature years he let the dread sink in.

I believe that Cioma Schönhaus and Boris Grünstein were soulmates, also in their sense of humour and appetite for love.

Boris Grünstein (1917–1992): Jude i Finland : galghumoristiska berättelser [A Jew in Finland : Gallows Humoristic Tales] (Söderström 1988). A tale of chutzpah in Finland during Drittes Reich.


Kino Lorber


Berlin, 1942. Cioma Schönhaus (Louis Hofmann, star of the hit Netflix series Dark) is a young Jewish man who won't let anyone take away his zest for life, especially not the Nazis. Since the best hiding spots are in plain sight, Cioma audaciously adopts the identity of a marine officer to escape being deported like his family before him. Drawing on his art school background, he joins a network of underground rescuers and becomes infamous for his masterfully forged IDs – created with just a brush, some ink, and a steady hand – that save the lives of hundreds of Jews by allowing them to escape the country. Meanwhile, he throws himself into the city's nightlife and even finds a fragile hope for love during the darkest moments of the war. His talent and propensity for boldness puts him in more and more danger, however, until his only chance of survival is one last forged document – with his own name on it. Based on a true story.


Based on a true story of bravery in the face of evil, The Forger stars Louis Hofmann (Netflix’s Dark) as an audacious young man who poses as a marine officer and forges documents to help fellow Jews escape Nazi Germany. 


THE FORGER is a dynamic and emotional biopic set in World War II Berlin and revolving around the historical figure Cioma Schönhaus. Cioma is a young man full of curiosity about life and love. His drive is overwhelming, his acumen great, and his boyish charm infectious. But it’s 1942 and Cioma is Jewish – but despite the discrimination and scorn he endures, he finds a way to assert himself. We didn't want to make a classic film about the Nazi era, but to tell Cioma's story in an emotional way. Thanks to his lust for life, he doesn't lose heart even in the darkest times, but reduces loyalty to the regime and any stigmatization to absurdity. Cioma does not want to fit into any pigeonhole and shakes us all up. The past must not be repressed, but retold again and again in different narrative perspectives: Through the individual fates of Cioma and his companions, director Maggie Peren has portrayed a Third Reich that eschews familiar images and for this very reason is certain to play a crucial role in today's discourse. We experience the cruelty, the absurdity of this time in miniature. And yet all the characters have facets that make them not simply good or evil. Besides what is overt and conspicuous, hidden racism lurks around every corner, often casually revealed and – without much fuss – shaken to the core. It doesn't require a swastika flag waving in the wind or swanky uniforms marching across familiar squares. Everyday racism builds a bridge to the here and now.


Cioma Schönhaus story is the story of a person who rebels against stigmatization. The regime of terror is present, but we do not offer the Nazis a platform. We see them through Cioma’s eyes as we see everything through his eyes.

The most difficult thing for me as a director was to do justice to the lightness of the novel and at the same time tell how people hate Jews as a matter of course, thinking that they are friendly and nice after all. It was important to me to raise awareness that racism doesn't come out of nowhere. The roots go deep into our society, and Cioma’s story in its enormous lightness has nevertheless - or just because of it - the power to trace the depth of the roots.


Samson “Cioma” Schönhaus was born in Berlin on September 28, 1922. A few year earlier, his parents Fanja and Boris Schönhaus had immigrated from Minsk, Belarus to build a better life in Berlin. Cioma grew up in what is now Berlin-Mitte. In 1926/27 the family lived for twelve months in an agricultural colony in what was then Palestine, but returned to Berlin because of the adverse circumstances there and because Cioma, who was now five years old, had fallen ill. The father founded a mineral water factory, and for a few years they led a solid middle-class life here. The parents viewed the Nazi regime and anti-Semitism in the country with great concern, but for a long time they trusted in supposed Prussian virtues such as law and order. Like so many Jews, they hoped to be better protected from discrimination in Berlin. Cioma’s artistic talent was evident at an early age, and in 1938/39 he attended the private Hausdorf School of Arts and Crafts. His training as a graphic artist was cut short by compulsory service in construction work and in uniform and weapons production. On June 13, 1942 Cioma was to be deported to the concentration and extermination camp Majdanek together with his parents, but his deportation was postponed thanks to his job in the armament industry. His parents were deported with the 15th transport and murdered in the Sobibór and Majdanek concentration camps. Wherever Cioma could, he evaded the regulations. He sold his parents' household goods even before the Nazis confiscated them, and thus had some money to spare.

In the fall of 1942, he began forging identity documents for other Jews living underground, replacing photos and imitating stamps in real passports. In doing so, he cooperated with the circle of helpers led by the lawyer and resistance fighter Franz Kaufmann, who was a member of the Confessing Church in Berlin. Many of the Church’s members donated their identity cards to the offertory box and later reported them lost. For his forgeries, Cioma received ration cards from Kaufmann, with the sale of which he was able to build up a sham legal existence under various names, at least for a short time. But already in August 1943 the circle of helpers was exposed by a denunciation from the population, and Kaufmann was arrested and later murdered in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. At the end of September 1943, disguised as a Wehrmacht soldier on home leave and with papers he had forged himself, Cioma fled on a bicycle via Stuttgart to Switzerland, where he managed to build a new life. He earned a degree as a graphic artist and opened a studio for graphic design and communication, which he ran until 2000. He lived near Basel with his wife and four sons. Cioma died on September 22, 2015, shortly before his 93rd birthday. Two of his sons became musicians and founded the klezmer ensemble "Bait Jaffe" (Hebrew for "beautiful house," in reference to their family name). Of the up to 7000 people in hiding in Berlin, only about 1700 survived the period of persecution.


The age of the characters refers to the summer of 1943.

Cioma Schönhaus, 21
The son of Russian parents, grew up in Haifa and Berlin. In 1941 he had to leave the School of Arts and Crafts and work in armaments. From 1942 to 1943 Cioma worked illegally as a passport forger for Franz Kaufmann and in return received food stamps and shelter, which he was forced to leave when his good friend Det Kassriel was allegedly denounced by a resident of the house. After that, he moved from one hiding place to another and finally found shelter at Helene Jacobs’ home before riding his bicycle across Germany and crossing a stream to reach Switzerland.

Det Kassriel, 22
Just like Cioma, Det was compelled to do forced labor and ended up in a military tailor shop where Cioma's mother also had to work. This is how the two got to know each other. When he was forced to go into hiding, Det first lived with Cioma Schönhaus at Münzstraße 11. In this shared living space, Siegbert, as he was also called, turned out to be a good cook. His good relations with the market women enabled Cioma to sell some items before the neighbor Frau Peters started doing the work for the two young men. Det did not escape the Nazis. He was deported and murdered.

Gerda, 20
We only know about Gerda through Cioma's stories. She was a little younger than him and engaged to a Wehrmacht soldier, in whose apartment she was also allowed to live. In order to survive, she had to “date.” Cioma, according to his own accounts, was head over heels in love with her, though quite a few friends warned him about Gerda. She broke up with Cioma because his habit of constantly losing everything put her in too much danger, though she had genuine feelings for him. Like Cioma's friend Det, she was also deported.

Franz Kaufmann, 57, Lawyer
Although baptized and raised as a Protestant, he was classified as a full Jew by the Nazis. However, he was protected from deportation due to his marriage to a non-Jewish woman and their child. As a member of the Confessing Church, he built up a network together with Helene Jacobs that provided Jewish people with shelter and helped them to escape with forged passports. He was arrested in 1943 and shot in 1944 in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Frau Peters, 29
War widow and resident of the house at Münzstraße 11, Frau Peters always stuck her nose into everything and no one was safe from her. Since she did not work and her war widow's pension was not exactly lavish, she decided to sell items belonging to the Schönhaus family herself. She sold with advance payment. The accounts were settled in an orderly fashion. She considered herself very righteous. She was intimate with Det. That he was Jewish did not bother her at such moments. Otherwise, she believed in Hitler, the meaning of the war, and the Nazi party.

Ludwig Lichtwitz, 39
Ludwig was a trained book printer and married to the non-Jewish Wally, but she separated from him when she should have been protecting him. In a rented store in Berlin Moabit, he set up a counterfeiting workshop with Cioma Schönhaus in the middle of Berlin. After Franz Kaufmann was arrested, Ludwig was unable to continue hiding in Berlin and was arrested. He succeeded in disabling the electricity and managed to escape. He survived the war and in the end reunited with his wife.


DIRECTOR – Maggie Peren
Maggie Peren is an award-winning writer and director born in Heidelberg, Germany. After studying literature and psychology in Munich, she started writing her first screenplay (FORGET AMERICA) when she was twenty-four years old. In 2003, she received the German Film Award for BEFORE THE FALL, followed by numerous screenplays for which she won national and international awards. In 2011 she presented her second directorial work, THE COLOR OF THE OCEAN. The refugee drama celebrated its premiere in Toronto and was awarded several prizes worldwide. The thriller short film NOCEBO (2014) won the student Oscar for best foreign film. THE FORGER is her most recent feature film.

PRODUCERS – Alexander Fritzemeyer & Martin Kosok (DREIFILM)
Since founding DREIFILM during their studies at the University of Television and Film Munich, Alexander Fritzemeyer and Martin Kosok have developed and produced numerous commercials, TV formats, and feature-length films, among them the feature film DON’T LOOK AT ME THAT WAY (2016, directed by Uisenma Borchu), which won the Bavarian Film Award and Fripresci Award, the tragicomedy LA PALMA (2020, directed by Erec Brehmer), and the short film JUPITER (2019, directed by Benjamin Pfohl), which was screened at numerous national and international festivals. Since November 2018, DREIFILM has been a subsidiary of X Filme Holding. THE FORGER is their third production for the big screen.

DOP – Christian Stangassinger
Christian Stangassinger was born in Munich in 1978 and grew up in Munich and Kiel. Already during his studies at the University of Television and Film in Munich, his films and commercials were shown at renowned festivals and won numerous awards. One of them is the short film SILENT RIVER(2011, directed by Anca Miruna Dunga), which won more than 70 festival awards and for which he was awarded the German Camera Award. For his first feature film THE KING’S SURRENDER (2015, directed by Philipp Leinemann) he won the Bavarian Film Award. Most recently, he was responsible for the image design of the series WILD REPUBLIC (2020, Markus Goller, Lennart Ruff) and BARBARIANS (2019, directors: Barbara Eder, Steve St. Leger).

Louis Hofmann
Born in 1997 in Cologne, Louis Hofmann has made a name for himself as an actor in film and television since 2010. For his first leading role in a feature film, TOM SAWYER (2011, directed by Hermine Huntgeburth), he was awarded the New Faces Award Special Prize. This was followed by the feature film drama SANCTUARY (2015, directed by Marc Brummund), for which he received the Bavarian Film Award for Best Young Actor and the Young Actor Award of the German Actors Award. He gained his first international experience with the Danish-German co-production LAND OF MINE (2015, directed by Martin Zandvliet), among others, followed by roles in other feature films such as CENTRE OF MY WORLD (2016, directed by Jakob M. Erwa), THE WHITE CROW (2018, directed by Ralph Fiennes), PRÉLUDE (2019, directed by Sabrina Sarabi), and the series DARK (2017– 2020, directed by Baran bo Odar). His latest projects include the mini-series RIPLEY (directed by Steven Zaillian) alongside Andrew Scott and Dakota Fanning, as well as LIFE AFTER LIFE (directed by John Crowley). Hofmann can soon be seen in THE FORGER and in Robert Schwentke's black comedy SENECA – On the Creation of Earthquakes alongside John Malkovich.

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