This dark, intense German/French drama is a difficult film to assess. It is a slightly over-the-top melodrama that combines a crime and courtroom story with one of personal tragedy and revenge, overlaid with references to the curse of racially motivated violence and its impact on both the victims, their families, and society at large. In terms of plot and choice of dramatic devices, it seems to parallel many straightforward crime films or television dramas, and threatens to become didactic and predictable, but In The Fade somehow manages to surpass the limitations of its own storyline.
Diane Kruger plays Katja Sekerci, a young German wife and mother, married to Nuri Sekerci (Nauman Acar), a man with a chequered past and, significantly, Turkish ancestry. When Nuri and their young son are killed by a bomb planted at his workplace, Katja is devastated. Her grief is soon increased by questioning from the police, who fixate on Nuri’s past incarceration for drug dealing, convinced that his illegal activities must be the cause of the attack. The police investigation of the bombing, and Katja’s efforts to defend her late husband, create discord in her extended family as well, and she is left without a source of support or comfort.
Katja believes the bombing was racially motivated, perhaps an act of terrorism by a hate group directed against her Turkish-born husband, a suspicion the authorities dismiss. This concludes what the film identifies as its first chapter, titled The Family. When Katja’s suspicions are unexpectedly found to be correct, the story amps up into the second chapter of the film, entitled Justice: a tense courtroom showdown in which the terrorists are arrested and tried for murder. The third act, The Sea, follows the angry and disillusioned Katja’s efforts to seek justice outside the legal system, by whatever means possible, and a conclusion that is shocking in spite of the ample lead-up.
All three chapters of the film brazenly play up the emotional turmoil of the characters, whether it is Katja’s grief and the abject, self-harming depression that follows; her family’s bitter dissent; the details of her husband’s and son’s horrible murder; or her cold fury at the terrorists who killed them, and her thirst for revenge. It even includes what has become a fairly cliché courtroom scene: the crime victim’s next of kin suddenly losing control and physically assaulting the defendants in the middle of their trial. In this context, even the timeliness of the subject matter, which should work to the film’s advantage, might easily be taken as a cynical bid for popularity.
What makes In The Fade work is the talent of the people involved and their dedication to telling the story. Diane Kruger, who took the Best Actress award at Cannes for this performance, copes with the often overwrought role effectively and realistically, making Katja’s reaction believable, and the character sympathetic, without veering into pathos. Prolific German director Fatih Akin, who has been showered with film festival awards and tributes over the years, co-wrote the script; his direction is equally responsible for taking the story beyond the ordinary, and making it gripping and impactful, rather than just another lurid action film redeemed by its opposition to neo-Nazis. Akin reportedly went to great lengths to give the film the look and feel he felt would bring the message across, even using completely different varieties of film and camera equipment for each of the three chapters. Between the efforts of Akin and Diane Kruger, aided by a competent cast, the film succeeds in making the audience identify with the lead character, even when she delves into extreme and questionable thoughts and actions, and come away with some understanding of the extremes good people might be driven to when they encounter genuine evil.
In The Fade has received more attention, including outside Germany, than most of Akin’s films, likely because of its award nominations at Cannes and other festivals, and its submission to the Oscars by Germany for the Best Foreign Film category. The subject matter may also attract particular attention at this time. Akin admits to a personal motivation to see the acts of white supremacists discussed openly; he was first driven to write the script when he discovered his own name on a neo-Nazi ‘target list.’ Finally, the film’s musical score is striking – an area Akin takes great pains with in his work. The title comes from a piece of music by the same name by rock group Queens of the Stone Age, who composed and performed most of the film’s score. Akin gives no explanation except that he felt the song contained the same “self-destructive” feeling he hoped to express in the film.
For further viewing…
The 2016 drama Imperium is a drama about an ambitious and good-hearted FBI agent (Daniel Radcliffe) who goes undercover as a member of a radical American white supremacist group. It is suspenseful, multi-faceted and often moving, giving considerable insight into what might motivate young men to attach themselves to neo-Nazi organisations.