In the Fade
Cross-cultural crime drama puts a match to modern European society
In the Fade (2018)
Directed by Fatih Akin
Cast: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Numan Acar
German-Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin shoots movies not on film but on flash paper. His 1998 film Short Sharp Shock, his 2004 film Head-On, his 2007 film The Edge of Heaven and others have explored devastating modern worlds of senseless violence, unfathomable tragedy and the consequences of surviving both. Shot through with themes of culture clash, religious conflict, racial intolerance, xenophobia and the coin-flip antipodes of revenge and forgiveness, Akin’s provocative films are highly flammable documents just waiting for a stray spark to ignite them. His latest, the Golden Globe-winning drama In the Fade, is no exception.
Diane Kruger (Troy, National Treasure, Inglourious Basterds) nails down her finest film role (and took home Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her efforts) as our savage, broken heroine Katja. As In the Fade fades up, our Teutonic leading lady is seen marrying Turkish-born Nuri Sekerci (Numan Acar) in a prison ceremony. Six years later, ex-con Nuri is out of jail and on the straight and narrow. He now owns a storefront tax business in Hamburg. He and Katja have a 6-year-old son together. Everything seems good for the young family—until one random, tragic day when a nail bomb goes off on the sidewalk in front of Nuri’s office. Katja’s husband and son are both dead. The lingering question is why?
On paper Nuri was an ethnic Kurd, a Muslim and, most prominently, a former drug dealer. Could any of these be contributing factors in his death, wonder the local police. But Katja is emphatic that her husband was apolitical, agnostic and no longer involved in the criminal world. Connecting the two easiest dots they have—a Middle-Easterner and a bomb—the police imply that Nuri may have been involved in some sort of terrorist activity. Katja bristles at the suggestion. A few subtle inquiries among old friends confirms her beliefs: There’s no good reason for her husband to be targeted.
In the Fade is—like other Akin films—broken up into three distinct chapters. The first, “The Family,” shows Katja dealing with the immediate aftermath of her husband and son’s murder. Slate-faced and dark-eyed, she goes about her new life: shopping for coffins, arguing with relatives, doing whatever drugs she can get her hands on to numb the pain. Unable to find a logical reason for the killings, Katja settles on a theory. She believes that neo-Nazi terrorists may be behind the attack. In today’s Germany it’s not too far-fetched an idea. But police are reluctant to listen to Katja, believing the victim’s criminal past must still be the contributing factor.
Eventually, however, a pair of suspects are found and put on trial for the murders. The film’s second chapter, “Justice,” concerns Katja’s ordeals in court as she endures testimony describing her young son’s brutal death and defense lawyers slandering her and her husband’s reputation. Though, at this point, the film becomes a traditional courtroom drama, Akin stages the extended sequence with an almost unbearable amount of tension and emotional punch. Will the suspects—both clearly responsible—be found guilty?
The film’s final third, “The Sea,” explores the repercussions of the trial and Katja’s reaction to it. It’s here that Akin starts moving a source of flame closer and closer to his explosive narrative. Like all of Akin’s stories, the film flirts with ideas of brutal revenge and graceful redemption and the thorny territory between. It’s hard to guess where this one will end up. And when it does hit its final, hard-earned conclusion, Akin pulls the rug out from under viewers—many of whom will be shocked to find who and what they end up sympathizing with. As always, Akin is making broader sociological points amid his laceratingly personal dramas.
In some ways In the Fade is one of Akin’s most accessible, least complex films. Boiled down to its constituent story beats, it could be viewed as your basic revenge thriller. It’s not nearly as edgy as Akin’s suicidal romance Head-On nor as profound as his melancholy, multi-character tapestry The Edge of Heaven. There is power in this film, however, and much of it comes from Kruger. The actress holds nothing back, letting the grief, pain and anger of her character spill out onto the screen in tears and blood. Even in moments of quietude and stillness, there’s a keening sadness to her performance. Pay closer attention and you’ll notice a lot of the hot button issues Akin folds into this deceptively simple story. Notice how the police and the media react to the crime, searching for a racial or religious motive first and foremost. Contemplate how “justice” is served in the mockingly titled second segment. And feel free to sift through the rubble the film’s explosive climax looking for answers to the ugly questions Akin asks of today’s fractious society.