THE STORY – Cioma Schönhaus, a 21-year-old Jewish man, escapes the Gestapo and saves lives thanks to his ability to forge passports. His other talent is forging his own identity.
THE CAST – Louis Hofmann, Jonathan Berlin & Luna Wedler
THE TEAM – Maggie Peren (Director/Writer) & Cioma Schönhaus (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 116 Minutes
The second World War will forever be a period of endless fascination. From a macro perspective, the conflict is a relatively simple affair of good triumphing over an undisputed evil, a tale that can be more easily digestible to a mass audience. However, even within such distinct lines being drawn in the sand, there are various stories one can glean from such a turbulent juncture in history. Often those who were left to maintain any semblance of a life in war-torn Germany carried with them a unique viewpoint that was forced to navigate the persistent danger and specter of death that became a state of mundanity. “The Forger” exists in some of these realms while also attempting to find an inspiring story of perseverance and rebellion. It unfortunately only accomplishes this task with minimal success and unextraordinary results.
The setting is Berlin, 1942. A young Jewish man, Cioma Schönhaus (Louis Hofmann), barely gets by with the intense restrictions placed upon him in the Nazi-controlled state. He is forbidden to take public transport outside of approved hours, and working menial tasks in a factory obviously leaves his life unfulfilled. That is until he is recruited by the leader of a resistance group looking to forge passports as a means to help those targeted with violence escape the country. Cioma’s ego at first prevents him from being accepted as a trusted member of this group, but his skill soon proves to be invaluable. His spirits lift to the point where he seeks the romance of a young woman (Luna Wedler) but must also be cautious not to cross his inquisitive and curt landlord (Nina Gummich). Peril lurks around every corner, with a race to finish this important task before the fatal consequences arise.
Taken from the real-life subject’s memoir, a subtle commentary runs beneath the intriguing web of thrills that punctuate every scene. As a forger, Cioma is meant to meticulously study the characteristics of these documents to create an identical replica. This is also reflected back in his own behavior, as he starts to inhabit the sleek aesthetics and boorish arrogance of the SS officers to the point that parts of his humanity are at risk of being lost. Unfortunately, such analysis plays only on the surface, and most of what writer-director Maggie Peren crafts is merely a modest examination of these particular struggles. Little is done to establish these characters beyond their generic outlines. Given the shallow presentation, as the stakes escalate and the tension ratchets up, it is difficult to fully connect to such plights. There is an attempt to fashion a more emotionally resonant atmosphere towards the end, but the storytelling struggles to construct an engaging portrait. It’s a competent display of filmmaking, but the drama often fails to make an impact, hindered further by a musical score that undercuts the seriousness and forms jarring tonal shifts.
Hofmann seems to be a capable performer, but he has trouble breaking free of the bonds of such a bland protagonist. He sports a sly grin that is interchangeably used to bolster his pride as well as mask his insecurities. Sadly, such nuance is not particularly consistent, and the supporting players are the ones who end up providing the more dynamic work. There’s a complexity that Wedler showcases that keeps one allured by her presence, guessing at her motivations, and she is quite captivating. Similar sentiments are toward Gummich, whose role that both opposes and is complicit with the current power structures is a fascinating dichotomy. She finds seething and tender notes to play, and it is admirable. Jonathan Berlin is a friend of Cioma who often tries to be the voice of reason in this strained friendship, and he provides a performance full of charm and tragedy that one is easily taken with. The assembly of actors is a talented group that fights against the material, a heavy anchor that limits their successful reach.
It is important not to undermine or trivialize any event associated with the atrocity of the Holocaust, particularly those heroes who put their lives on the line to save so many. However, the folly of “The Forger” is that it seeks to aptly capture the necessary scope of such occasions and ultimately comes up short. Cioma was apparently responsible for saving the lives of hundreds, yet the narrative is far more invested in more personal exploits that are rather pedestrian. The cast does a laudable job on their own to embody compelling characters, but they alone cannot save such hollow observations. This is but one of several stories that exist in this moment in time, but sadly these exploits leave one more at a distance. The actions may be powerful, but the exhibition is less than ideal.