Johannes Naber, Germany
“A True Story. Unfortunately.” Misdeeds surrounding the 2003 invasion of Iraq couldn’t be less appetizing, and then along comes a quick-witted entertaining political satire to strain government credibility more. Gaffer-turned-director Johannes Naber’s reputation for provocative filmmaking doesn’t disappoint in his third feature, CURVEBALL. The screenplay Naber’s co-wrote with Oliver Keidel and in tandem with Sten Mende’s mood-altering cinematography is suspenseful, incredulous, provides some comic relief while exposing the ingenuity of key players, and the depth of deception to obfuscate details.
In 1997, a UN mission of international scientists learns they’re leaving Iraq. Having searched for months for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Dr. Arndt Wolf’s (Sebastian Blomberg) fixation on existent hidden weapons is unshakable. Yet, 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. Dr. Wolf (fictional) is delighted to be involved, even telling his boss Schatz (Thorsten Merten) about his American contact, good friend and counterpart with U.S. CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), Leslie (Virginia Kull). Wolf attempts to garner information and cooperation from Alwan—remarkably, they form a friendship—but first the Iraqi wants out of the asylum camp, then, a German passport. Wolf’s close relationship with daughter Meg (Franziska Brandmeier) helps him maintain saneness as the situation begins unraveling. Maybe he is like a “dog with a bone,” but as years pass and politicians change, little is as it appears as poor ol’ Dr. Wolf learns who “make the facts.” Moreover, en masse all are taken for a (proverbial) sleigh ride.
CURVEBALL’s cynical account juxtaposes dry, caustic wit with the blanch-worthy, portentous behavior from higher-ups in intelligence communities that the cast splendidly portrays. Anne Jünemann’s judicious editing, with evenhandedly inserted archival footage (George W. Bush, Joschka Fischer, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Gerhard Schröder), gains momentum gradually as the grave allegations surface; Naber’s agitated, sparse score accompanies it. The film’s quintessential German humor counterbalances it’s sobering social commentary re truth, which is particularly dispiriting from the vantage of hindsight. “What is truth?” –the cryptic answer, “An illusion.”