Truth and Fiction | Opinion

“This movie is a fantasy. But a lot happened too. Most of the time we invented it. Honestly!” Even with these sentences, which Michael “Bully” Herbig puts before his new directorial work “A Thousand Lines,” it’s clear which direction to go. The case of Klaas Relotius, the Spiegel award-winning reporter, who invented numerous articles and interviews and stumbled upon his scams in 2018 – “Shtunk!” Sends greetings – treat with sarcastic means. Perhaps not the worst idea, as the story sometimes turned out to be incredibly ridiculous.

Herbig and screenwriter Hermann Florin used “A Thousand Lines of Lies. The Relotius System and the German Press” as a source of inspiration, in which Juan Moreno traces the manipulative machinations of his formerly famous colleague. The film names investigative journalist Juan Romero (Elias Mubarak) and allows him to comment sarcastically on events from the outset. His counterpart is Lars Pugenius (Jonas Nye), whom the director ironically casts in his debut as a savior surrounded by a glowing light. In the home of the fictitious news magazine “Die Chronik”, the eminent chiefs are lying at this man’s feet, as confirms a meeting with division chief Rainer Habicht (Michael Martins) and deputy editor-in-chief Christian Eichner (Joerg Hartmann).

The ball that started to crash Puginius is a report on the refugee situation on the US-Mexico border. While the journalist star works on the American side, Romero faces the neighboring country. In the end, a co-written story should emerge. Already at the first stage of work on the text, Romero found inconsistencies in the descriptions of his colleague and increasingly suspected Puginius’ visit to the notorious militia. But in the executive suite, his advice fell on deaf ears. Since no one wants to take a closer look, the freelancer does the research at his own expense.

not deep

The Relotius case concerns not only a flagrant error, but also a flagrant failure of the system. After the discovery, there was one big question in the room: How could such a construction of lies on Earth remain undiscovered? Especially in Spiegel, which has long boasted of its extensive fact-checking department, the so-called documents? Lots of material for a very sharp look behind the scenes of the media industry, which unfortunately owes the movie “A Thousand Lines”.

Herbig’s free reconstruction of the scandal mostly gives superficial, realistic answers and paints simple portraits of the character. While Puginius comes across as a smooth, polite and down-to-earth writer, Romero appears as a slightly disheveled, somewhat scheming, lovable seeker of truth vacillating between family and work. Only visually, the two are clearly distinguished. The head of the “Reportage” department and the deputy editor-in-chief, two cartoon-like characters, have fame, honor and circulation in their sights and frankly encourage their employees to deal flexibly with the truth. “We pour reality into stories”, “Everyone can make facts” and “Not Ole Weckert, more Quentin Tarantino!” These are the statements and announcements that resonate in meeting rooms. A blind thirst for amazing and exciting stories trumps everything else. According to the movie, providing the fact-checkers with their favorite treat is enough to keep the documentation department happy.

swinging design

There is no doubt that Herbig makes a real effort to raise the issue of fraud, which revolves around pseudo-texts and non-overlapping elements, with dynamic stylistic and gradual devices. The picture freezes over and over and Romero walks across the scene, addressing and explaining to the viewer directly. Bogenius’ invented experiments are visually decorated. Even a crook can break through the fourth wall. Especially in the final third, the film plays comically with the question of how to tell stories as effectively as possible.

It all reminds us of Adam McKay’s stock market satire “The Big Short” and Dick Cheney’s biography “Vice Man Two”, which are very cleverly complex facts and events. A Thousand Lines uses the hammer often and relies on shallow humor to get close to keeping up with it. The film’s tendency to be starkly candid about its ideas becomes painfully clear when Romero realizes that, after the refugee report is released, he appears to be complicit. So that everyone understands what is meant, there is a short supplement that shows Bogenius as a bank robber and Romero as a getaway driver.

Two other things that also catch the eye in a negative way: the Romero family’s situation, and their alienation from his wife (Mary Burchard) and children due to excessive research should serve as the emotional anchor for the story. However, the bottom line is that this layer looks inlaid and textured. For a long time, media satire was preoccupied with portraying the environment of “Chronik” magazine as arrogant and narcissistic. Shortly before the end, “A Thousand Lines” once again sings the praises of the power of the press and raises the mirror to viewers/readers, who are not entirely innocent of sensational reports. In a way, it is important that these exciting aspects are hastily added. Especially in times of fake news outbreaks, a stronger film on the topic of ‘fact and fiction’ was needed.

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