70th Berlin International Film Festival: Curveball Review

Arndt Wolf (Sebastian Blomberg) is a bioweapons expert living and working in Berlin in the year 2000. A few years before, he spent months on end working in Iraq helping to search for anthrax production plants. It’s a trip he can’t get his mind off of. Despite his investigation in Iraq being shut down and rumours of Saddam Hussein still having nuclear weapons being squashed, Wolf is obsessed with the idea that chemical weapons are still being produced somewhere in Iraq. At work, he’s assigned to be the case officer for Rafid Ahmed Alwan (Dar Salim) – an Iraqi refugee who claims to be an engineer involved with the production of anthrax in Iraq. Hoping to get a German passport in return for information, Alwan feeds Wolf and the German government a string of stories and accusations that will eventually domino and amount to help provide the Bush administration with enough evidence to justify the most infamous war of the 21st century. Directed by Johannes Naber, Curveball questions what is truth and shines a light on the corruption, greed, and deliberate lies that lead to the deaths of between 150,00 and 600,000 Iraqis.



Photo © Curveball

Given the codename ‘Curveball’ by the CIA for his out of the blue appearance, Alwan is not an easy individual to negotiate with. He’s hesitant, fearful, and adamant that he can only provide further details of his time in Iraq once he’s been guaranteed safety in Germany. Interrogating him is Wolf – a disjointed widower with a distant daughter, Wolf’s entire life revolves around the possibility of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Skulking around alike a neo-noir detective, Wolf is insistent on finding out all that he can about Alwan. Attempting to befriend Alwan as a faux friend, illegally sending Alwan’s blood to his friends at the CIA hoping to find any trace that Alwan has been around anthrax; Wolf is a man obsessed with seeing what he wants to see.

When Alwan regurgitates rehashed theories of anthrax being produced in trucks constantly travelling all over Iraq, Wolf believes him completely – forgetting that this is a speculation he himself had published many years before. When Wolf tells the news to his boss, Schatz (Thorsten Merten), he’s ecstatic with joy; Popping champagne and exclaiming with joy how they are no longer the CIA’s ‘doormat’. Not a normal reaction to hearing that a country is harbouring nuclear weapons, Curveball examines how personal gain and ulterior motives were always the catalyst for the Iraq war. And that in such a detachment and indifference to the realities of warfare, invasions and death are merely seen as pawns in a game of power and promotions.


Photo © Curveball

About an hour in, Naber’s carefully measured and clinical story starts to snowball into a frantic whirlwind. Alwan is discovered to be lying; he’s never stepped foot in an anthrax plant. While this is disastrous for Wolf and his plans to return to Iraq, such news has absolutely no effect on the German Federal Intelligence Service or the CIA. ‘We make the facts’ one CIA agent coolly remarks as they continue to accumulate evidence for Alwan’s fake alibi. The once careful and poised Wolf is left scrambling around town, drink-driving in his pyjamas as he single-handedly tries to dismantle the fatal lie his government is trying to keep alive.

Of course, Wolf’s efforts are rendered futile as Alwan’s rough sketches on the back of napkins outlining fake anthrax trucks are taken by the CIA and turned into complex and detailed 3D reconstructions masquerading as evidence. Naber connects fact and fiction by cleverly using footage of UN meetings to show how such lies were presented before the world as a truth and justification for war. 


Photo © Curveball 

‘What is truth’ is a motif that rings throughout the film. To the CIA, the truth is an illusion; it’s whatever fits your agenda at the time. For Wolf, it’s a burdensome weight to bare as he examines his own involvement with the German Federal Intelligence Service. Curveball is a remorseful but important discussion on how the Iraq war was never about weapons of mass destruction. With a stripped-back and simplistic take on storytelling, Curveball is not a film that overtly appeals to the emotion but rather to the factual and the truth the world is owed.

Rating: image-2

Written by Abi Aherne

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