Arts Festival

The fox, the wolf and anthrax lies

LYING to the Germans: Dr Arndt Wolf (Sebastian Blomberg) interrogates Rafid Alwan (Dar Salim) in Curveball. Photograph courtesy

THE IRAQ WAR of 2003 saw the United States on a mission to destroy weapons of mass destruction. It saw the violent death of many thousands of civilians and the start of a bitter insurgency. But it was also a war that from its very kernel was based on an untruth that Germany allowed to get out of hand. This tale which would lend credibility to any fiction writer, is unfortunately true. It’s central to Johannes Naber’s exceptionally fine film, Curveball, which features on this year’s European Film Festival in South Africa. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the entire festival is available online and most of it without cost from 12-22 November.

And it is here where you meet Arndt Wolf (Sebastian Blomberg), a scientist in biological weaponry who is well respected in the Department of Secret Services in Germany, where he works. He’s an earnest bloke with strong credentials. He’s lost and loved but is not gregarious in telling his whole story. He doesn’t need to be: He is supported by a supremely well-crafted screenplay which balances an earth-shattering story with credible characterisation and a context that will blow your mind. There are some moments of an almost slapstick nature, however, but they do not detract from the torsion of the story.

Summoned out of delicate experimentation with dangerous, presumably anthrax, spores, Wolf is told about a refugee chemical engineer who has a tale to tell. Rafid Alwan (Dar Salim) does indeed have a tale to tell, and it all seems terribly simple. For just the price of being able to vanish out of the reach of his erstwhile country and its feared ruler Saddam Hussein, he will say what the Secret Service wants to hear. And he does.

Only, it’s never really as simple as that. It takes an understanding of the notion of a ‘bombshell’ in media terms, a colonialist sense of one-upmanship and a zealot from the CIA (Virginia Kull) with a loose respect for the value of truth in her career trajectory, as well as a ‘borrowing’ of said refugee and a reflection on what trust and friendship may – and may not – mean, for the whole world to explode. Needlessly.

Dotted with real footage from the times, which sees George Bush, Colin Powell and other world leaders extrapolating on the issue, it’s a tough film to watch, but an immensely important one. Beautifully constructed, from its use of music to its casting and narrative sequences, Curveball is easily one of the most compelling works in this year’s European Film Festival SA. It offers a seismic shift in an understanding of the Iraq War, the rhetoric of weapons of mass destruction, and all those lost civilian lives.

Curveball is directed by Johannes Naber and features a cast headed by Sebastian Blomberg, Franziska Brandmeier, Jeff Burrell, Marcus Calvin, Mike Davies, Simon Kerrison, Virginia Kull, Thorsten Merten, Dar Salim and Michael Wittenborn. Written by Oliver Keidel and Johannes Naber, it is produced by Amir Hamz, Christian Springer and Fahri Yardim, and features creative input by Sten Mende (cinematography), Anne Jünemann (editing), Mourad Barouche, Suse Marquardt and Lina Todd (casting), Tamo Kunz and Jenni Werche (production design) and Juliane Maier and Christian Röhrs (costumes). In English and German with English subtitles, it is part of the 7th European Film Festival South Africa, screening online and without cost from 12-22 November 2020.

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