Good forgeries are tiny works of art, and Berlinale selection, The Forger, strives to be exactly that. In the film, we follow a young Jewish man, Cioma (Louis Hofmann), who is trying to live peacefully in 1940s Berlin. If the slightest modicum of history knowledge tells you anything, this time period was rife with atrocities. The Nazi regime was in full force, and being Jewish essentially meant a one-way ticket to a concentration camp. Even minimal knowledge about this time will leave the viewer on edge throughout, in regards to Cioma’s activities and potential discovery, and it certainly had me hoping he would not get caught.
In an effort to escape deportation, Cioma discovers a talent he never knew he had: forging IDs. After creating an identity of his own—a marine soldier—that helps him live in plain sight, Cioma becomes involved in forging IDs for others. Cioma’s boss wraps him up in this world, pulling him away from his current job and struggles. Cioma puts himself in danger countless times, with his roommate, Det (Jonathan Berlin), having his back at all costs. Cioma searches for love while juggling hardship, shaky living environments, and military secrets.
The friendship between Cioma and Det is the heart of The Forger. The two, in a way, go to hell and back together. With so many men getting themselves declared unfit for war, Cioma’s identity is occasionally difficult to uphold, but at the end of the day, he always reconnects with Det no matter what occurs. Initially, Det is totally preoccupied with getting “wine for his chicken” from local market women, and lusts after them. It soon becomes apparent that Det is looking out for Cioma. Once Det discovers his forging, he finds it curious that he “forges with the door unlocked.”
For those awaiting the heaviness of death camps and horrors, there is thankfully as little of that as possible. It is not until a somber, deeply upsetting afterward that we are able to truly observe the depressing aftereffects. I do think that ultimately, The Forger drags in some places, and could have used a bit of trimming to make it even tighter. A romantic side plot almost feels lifted from another movie. However, my qualms are few and far between. This is a harrowing story of Cioma trying to function as a 21-year-old during a time living out in the open was all but forbidden. I think stories like these, regardless of their simplicity, help to form a full portrait of the human spirit in the face of senseless tragedy.
The Forger screened at Berlinale International Film Festival.