Taking a comic approach to Germany’s role in the Iraq war, Curveball is decidedly behind the curve. With Vice already putting the final nail in the Bush-satire-era coffin, Curveball breaks no new ground for the genre. Uninteresting, un-involving, and unimportant, Curveball is a deeply inessential film, representing the worst excesses of the Berlinale Special Section.
The film begins in the late 90s with Dr. Wolf (Sebastian Blomberg) and Leslie (Virginia Kull) in Iraq as part of a UN delegation hired to inspect whether or not Saddam Hussein is hiding nuclear weapons. He is there with the BND (German Federal Intelligence Service), while she is a member of the CIA. Whether it’s through boredom or attraction, they’re having an affair. But the UN are called off, as no weapons have been found. When she tells him that he can go back to “fucking his German wife,” he comes clean: he never had a wife — he was just saying that so she wouldn’t think he wanted to get to close to her.
This is a sad man. But as one of the best bio-weapons experts on the business, he is seriously concerned about the threat of anthrax attacks, with one sequence laying out in carnivalesque detail the ways in which the deadly poison can wipe hordes of people out in seconds. When a refugee (Dar Salim) turns up from Iraq claiming to be a chemical engineer from one of Saddam’s plants, Wolf quickly tries to get the man to confess. But is this man to be trusted? You can guess the rest.
The acting is strained, with the film’s awkward switches from English to German complemented by the film’s uneven mixture of factual elements and fictional flights of fancy. Praise should must go to the production design, which manages to bring to life Germany’s post-reunification interiors with kitsch bravado. These settings are undermined, however, by a screenplay that doesn’t really know what to do with Wolf’s character.
His real motivations remain mixed; does he want to go back to Iraq to genuinely look for weapons, or because he believes the mission will reunite him with his ex? A film that goes broke for the latter might be more cravenly hilarious, but Curveball also tries to find serious moral lessons — Adam McKay-like — within its weak-tea comedy. (Naturally, it ends with a deadly sombre postscript). Just like the American director’s latest film, the result is deeply patronising, with no real introspection behind its stupidity.
While the faults that led to the Iraq War deserved to be looked at from every possible angle — including Germany’s crucial role in the misbelieved notion that Hussein was hiding deadly chemical weapons — the satirical approach, tried and tested (and failed in the USA), is quickly wearing thin. Perhaps even less than Hollywood — which hides true evil beyond silly theatrics — Germany didn’t need to add their take, and especially not in this superfluous fashion. Therefore, while Curveball may have some limited success in German-speaking countries, this bilingual comedy is unlikely to impress audiences anywhere else.
Curveball plays in the Berlinale Special section at the 70th Berlin Film Festival, which runs February 20th, 2020 – March 1, 2019. Visit the festival’s official website for more info.