Fake News! The very term alone is enough to get anyone’s eyes rolling. Especially those of the stoic men and women behind Chronik, Europe’s most popular weekly news magazine. In the age of dying print media, the German language Chronik delivers hard hitting and emotional stories of investigative journalism across the globe.
For the last few years, this success is thanks largely to their wunderkind 20-something reporter, Lars Bogenius (Jonas Nay). Bogenius’ abilities as a journalist have won him multiple awards and has seen him become the top reporter in Germany. There is a problem however, Bogenius is also Germany’s greatest bullshit artist, or so freelance journalist Juan Romero (Elyas M’Barek) starts to think when asked to collaborate on a feature story.
Bogenius’ hard-hitting expose on a violent racist American militia called ‘Border Wolves’ seems just that little bit too fantastical to be true. With his own reputation at risk, Juan decides to investigate with his photographer friend, Milo (Michael Ostrowski). Pulling on this one thread risks of bringing Chronik to its knees and he faces losing his career and his family if he’s wrong. But isn’t this what journalists are supposed to do? Seek out the truth?
This opening night feature of the 2023 German Film Festival is one which deals with issues as serious as the true story it is based on. Inspired by the 2018, ‘Spiegelgate’ affair where a prominent journalist for magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ admitted he “falsified his articles on a grand scale”, A Thousand Lines (Tausend Zeilen) follows the wake of films about the virtues of journalistic integrity such as Spotlight, The Post, and She Said. However, well known comedy director, Michael ‘Bully’ Herbig takes a much more satirical look at the news in this “based on a true story… but also mostly made up” tale.
While I do think this would have been better suited to a straight-faced story of fraud, it is full of laughs from start to finish. Hermann Florin’s script and characters bite directly at the heart of the type of people who have eradicated the public’s respect for printed news. Chronik’s managing directors pride themselves on a facade of integrity, then demand changes to an article to make it more ‘Tarantino-esque’ to sell copies.
The film is also greatly elevated by the loveable schleb of a main character, Juan. M’Barek plays the struggling father of 4 with such charm that you can’t help but root for the guy in his uphill battle. Often it can feel like he’s the only sane person in a world full of people who look more for excuses to explain a falsehood than to question it.
Although, I find much of the personal aspect of the movie such as Juan’s arguments with his wife over his obsession with the truth, fail to tie back into the main plot adequately. The scenes with his four young daughters are cute but I think they serve more to distract from the core narrative than add to it. For such a short film, I would have liked to have seen more of that precious time spent on Juan’s investigation into Bogenius’ other articles. Something which is hinted at but happens off screen.
An issue perhaps brought forward by the film’s comedic tone is that at no point does Bogenius come off like a master manipulator. From his very first words, it’s blatant that he’s a pathological liar. Nay is perfectly, looking almost identical to his true-life counterpart. But there’s a lack of confidence behind every one of his fibs that nobody seems to pick up on but Juan alone.
Added to which at times it feels like the film has no faith in the viewers astuteness, with fourth wall breaks used heavily to hammer home what is happening or to simply voice a character’s motivations aloud. But at the same time, this stylish way of storytelling leads to some creative scenes. Such as a heated email exchange being portrayed as Bogenius chiding Juan in a literal classroom as a teacher would a child.
A Thousand Lines is an entertaining film about the failings of journalism but also, it’s importance. Who knows how long these lies would have continued if not for a reporter doing the right thing? Although A Thousand Lines is a little rough around the edges, it is a commendable film about one of the greatest recent scandals in the world of news.
A Thousand Lines is playing as part of the 2023 German Film Festival until May 24.
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