Bully Herbig’s “A Thousand Lines”: Satirical Review of a Media Scandal

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At the end of 2018, “Spiegel” employee Claas Relotius was exposed as a scammer. Many of his award-winning stories are fictional. Bully Herbig addresses this scandal with the media satire “A Thousand Lines”, in which Elyas M’Barek plays investigative journalist Juan Moreno.

It is messages like “The boy who started the Syrian war” or an interview with Traute Lafrenz, the last survivor of the “White Rose”, with which Claas Relotius inspires not only the boardroom of “Spiegel” but also the readers of the magazine . The journalist received several prestigious awards, such as the Peter Scholl Latour Prize and the German Journalist Prize. CNN even named him “Journalist of the Year” in 2014.

Relotius was only 33 years old when his incredible success story ended abruptly in December 2018. Juan Moreno, a freelance “Mirror” colleague, revealed at the time that a significant portion of Relotius’ celebrated and award-winning stories were fictional.

Juan Moreno becomes Juan Romero

It was the media scandal of the decade that caused a furore, at least within the industry. At first it was just a feeling that Juan Moreno was pursuing and that soon turned out to be true. In September of the following year, a book called “A Thousand Lines of Lies” was published in which he shed light on the scandal and which director Bully Herbig and screenwriter Hermann Florin now used as the basis for the film “A Thousand Lines”. You’ve knitted a satire out of the fabric, which for the most part works great.


The fat executive floor.

(Photo: Warner Bros.)

Lars Bogenius (Jonas Nay) and his colleague Juan Romero (Elyas M’Barek) are collaborating on an article for the magazine “Die Chronik” when the latter notices some discrepancies in Bogenius’ beautifully worded descriptions. Could it all really have happened this way? Romero decides to investigate his suspicions on his own, as the “Chronik” sign (Michael Maertens and Jörg Hartmann) remains true to their celebrated hero. For a while even then, when the evidence for Bogenius’ lies is more or less clear.

And so Romero must put it all on one card to put an end to his shrewd colleague’s unfair play. Together with photojournalist Milo (Michael Ostrowski), he embarks on a world tour to investigate the flowery claims of the alleged fraudster.

‘The truth. Nothing else.’

“The Chronicle” advertises with the slogan “The truth. Nothing else”, but it soon becomes clear that Bogenius doesn’t take it too seriously anyway. He bends facts, invents conversations and describes situations that never happened. He can lie as well as write. However, he is not an honorable journalist, even though he confidently claims this until the end and the publisher and editor-in-chief continue to fall for him.

Opposite the slippery con man is Romero, who, on the other hand, seems almost a bit shabby and chaotic and is torn between work, vocation and family. Something that takes up a little too much space in the film, which is actually designed as a media satire, making it seem like a family comedy in many places. These scenes unnecessarily pull the viewer away from the really important events time and again.

Lines become images

Much more successful are the moments when Romero chases after his colleague’s individual stories and the film translates Bogenius’s well-formulated lines into images. Anyone who has read the Relotius articles will recognize a few things. For example, there is the story mentioned at the beginning of Mouawiya Syasneh, who at the age of 13 insulted Syrian President Assad with graffiti and was celebrated as a hero. Relotius wants to talk to him, but in the end only a few facts were correct.


Truth or lie? Bogenius (right) with the vigilante in Arizona.

(Photo: Warner Bros.)

Or the report “Jaegers Grenz”, the collaboration between Relotius and Moreno that got the ball rolling. In it, a Honduran woman, accompanied by Moreno, and her five-year-old daughter march through Mexico on a long trek to flee to the United States. On the other hand, the Relotius side, American Chris Jaeger is waiting with an armed militia to prevent just that. In reality, Relotius never met these self-proclaimed border guards. And in the Herbig film adaptation, not everything happened as told, but a lot happened. And those are the things you think are unbelievable.

All in all, “A Thousand Lines” is a successful and entertaining re-evaluation of a unique media scandal that shocked journalism and especially the “Mirror”. The magazine could only restore its reputation by consistently accepting the events. By the way, Sky is currently working on a documentary about the case. It should be available in Spring 2023 through the “Wow” streaming service.

“A Thousand Lines” hits German cinemas on September 29.

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