‘The Forger’ Review: Hiding in Plain Sight

This German drama follows a young Jewish man in early 1940s Berlin who survives by falsifying passports and concealing his identity in public.

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By Natalia Winkelman

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Before the opening credits in “The Forger,” a brief flash-forward scene shows a young man scampering into a lost and found office. Barging toward the desk, he is promptly reprimanded and ordered to wait his turn. This bathetic prelude is perhaps meant to communicate the man’s impudence, but it also readies the audience for a film of modest ambitions. Set in Berlin in 1942-43, the German period drama is less interested in wartime crises than the daily imbroglios of a life of hiding in plain sight.

The film, directed by Maggie Peren, follows the Jewish 21-year-old Cioma Schönhaus (Louis Hofmann), a documents forger sustaining himself on ration coupons, chutzpah and sheer daring alongside his friend, Det (Jonathan Berlin). For a span, the pair reside in Cioma’s family home — their relatives have already been deported — and find that they can enjoy extravagant outings to restaurants and dance clubs by posing as naval officers.

The screenplay, which Peren adapted from Schönhaus’s 2008 memoir, unspools with a certain complacency, and often seems to lack an emotional engine. Fleeting moments of suspense or melancholy are undermined by Cioma’s unremitting insouciance — no matter the situation, he wears a smirk — and a series of underwritten relationships muck up the narrative rather than enrich it. Peren is clever to favor mischief against a backdrop of gloom, but in doing so she draws a frustrating distance between her subject and the audience.

The Forger
Not rated. In German, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes. In theaters.

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