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Curveball: Is it all just a game?

Curveball: Is it all just a game?
© Courtesy of Bon Voyage Films

As a self-proclaimed fan of the political thriller genre, I came to Curveball with skepticism and relatively low expectations. Not because I already decided it wasn’t going to be good, but because I’m not sure whether mixing comedy, albeit satirical, with movies that touch on war and conflicts—especially ones based on or inspired by true stories—risks trivializing devastation and tragedy.

Once the movie got to its point, the story really focused on two characters: Dr. Arndt Wolf (Sebastian Bloomberg), a German bioweapons expert tasked with finding evidence of weapons of mass destruction being developed by then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and Rafid Alwan (Dar Salim), an Iraqi asylum seeker in Germany who claims to have firsthand knowledge as part of the team that developed said weapons of mass destruction.

The True Story: To know or Not To Know It

From an entertainment point of view, I think you’d find the experience of watching Curveball to be better without knowing the background of the story too much. I say this because director Johannes Naber and his co-screenwriter Oliver Keidel did a decent job in building the tension of the story by setting up the conflict gradually, inviting us as viewers to try and guess whether Rafid is a whistleblower who speaks out because of his conscience or simply an opportunist with complete disregard for who is harmed as long as he gets what he wants.
Curveball: Is it all just a game? © Courtesy of Bon Voyage Films
Conversely, if you’re familiar at all with the true story that inspired Curveball, I think it’ll be pretty hard for you to find it entertaining. Not because it’s bad, but because I can’t imagine watching this movie and not feeling frustrated and upset knowing the aftermath of the war that ensued in Iraq, that it resulted in heavy casualties, destruction, and permanently changed the world as we knew it, and that it might have been based on a blatant lie that the people in power accepted blindly because it fit their agenda. Even worse: when they realized they had been lied to, rather than admitting they had been played and trying to undo the damage, they tried their best to cover it up.

I’m not naïve. I studied the correlation between embedded journalism (a practice which sees journalists reporting stories from war grounds embedded in military units) and information control efforts by the US-led allied forces during the early phase of their invasion of Iraq back in 2003. While I’m not saying I’m an expert on this particular subject, I can confidently say that Curveball isn’t necessarily a surprise to me. Nonetheless, it still messed with my head big time.

What Is the Value of a Human Life?

Hours after first viewing Curveball on the Kinofest platform, I was still upset. I wished I could just forget what I just saw—fully aware that the movie is after all an exaggeration of the actual events—and go back to living in ignorance of everything that went down. I thought that at least I wouldn’t have to accept that decisions to invade another country in this modern day were taken with such carelessness.
Curveball: Is it all just a game? © Courtesy of Bon Voyage Films
A few days after, the frustration lingered and so I decided to go back and watch Curveball a second time. And that’s when I found a whole new appreciation for Naber and every crew member that made this movie. Not because I missed some important scenes the first time, but because I realized that had the movie not been written properly, edited and directed carefully, acted gracefully, it wouldn’t have had such an effect on me.

At the end of the day, I don’t think the movie’s satirical comedic touch tried to trivialize the consequences of the war or the suffering that it caused. I realized that on a personal level, I too keep poignant memories next to funny ones. Perhaps because that’s the one way I know I can keep on and not lose hope even when everything seems to be in disorder.