Opening 9 Sep 2021
“A True Story. Unfortunately.” Political misdeeds surrounding Iraq’s invasion in 2003 could not be less appetizing, and then a quick-witted entertaining political satire appears to strain government credibility more. German gaffer-turned-director Johannes Naber’s reputation for provocative filmmaking does not disappoint in his third feature, Curveball. The screenplay Naber’s co-wrote with Oliver Keidel in tandem with Sten Mende’s mood-altering cinematography is suspenseful, incredulous, and provides some comic relief, while exposing the key players ingenuity, and the depth of deception to obfuscate details.
In 1997, after months searching for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) a U.N. mission of international scientists leave Iraq empty-handed. Nonetheless, Dr. Arndt Wolf’s (Sebastian Blomberg) fixation on existent hidden weapons is unshakable. But, no one cares. Two years later, though, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) contacts its bio-weapons expert about a delicate matter. Seems an Iraqi asylum-seeker (factual), Rafid Alwan (Dar Salim), can substantiate Hussein’s WMD, because, he claims, he worked on the secret program. Delighted to be involved, Dr. Wolf (fictional) tells his boss (Thorsten Merten) about Leslie (Virginia Kull), an American contact, friend, and counterpart with the U.S. CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). Wolf’s attempts to garner information and cooperation from Alwan are stymied big time when he clarifies key prerequisites; astonishingly, a friendship is formed. As the situation unravels, Wolf’s daughter Meg (Franziska Brandmeier) helps keeps him sane. Perhaps he is like “a dog with a bone” but as years pass politicians change and little is as it appears. Since whomever “makes the facts,” poor ol’ Dr. Wolf learns, decides.
Curveball’s cynical account juxtaposes dry, caustic wit with blanch-worthy, portentous behavior from higher-ups in intelligence communities that the cast splendidly portrays. Anne Jünemann’s judicious editing gains momentum gradually as grave allegations surface, with evenhandedly inserted archival footage (George W. Bush, Joschka Fischer, Donald Rumsfeld, Gerhard Schröder), and accompanied by Naber’s agitated, sparse score. The film’s quintessential German humor counterbalances its sobering social commentary re truth, which is particularly dispiriting from the vantage of hindsight. “What is truth?” –the cryptic answer, “An illusion.” (Marinell Haegelin)