Director Fatih Akin is known for his cross-cultural exploration of the lives and struggles of German Turks through tales of loss and forgiveness in critically acclaimed films like Head On (2004) and The Edge of Heaven (2007). Akin’s newest drama, In the Fade, explores these themes even deeper.
Set in the German-Turkish community of Akin’s hometown of Hamburg, the film follows Katja (Diane Kruger) as she struggles to cope with and comprehend the senseless act of violence committed on her husband Nuri (Numan Acar) and son Rocco (Rafael Santana).
The film is inspired by the National Socialist Underground murders that occurred between 2000-2007. These xenophobic attacks on German Turks throughout the country, at the hands of three NSU members, left ten dead. In the film, Katja’s husband and six-year-old son are the casualties of a nail bomb by two members of a neo-Nazi terrorist group.
Divided into three parts, In the Fade is a stylish revenge thriller, but don’t expect anything like John Wick. It’s a slow-burn in the best way.
The first two parts, “Family” and “Justice”, introduce the characters with the use of a found footage cinematographical style that records Katja and Nuri’s wedding after his release from prison for serving time on drug charges. Fast forward to the present, and we see Katja bringing their son Rocco to visit Nuri at his bookkeeping business; completing the happy picture before it is hit with tragedy. The dynamic of the family is only briefly glimpsed at, but Akin manages to show just enough that the events that unfold feel truly heartwrenching. The crime is then investigated, followed by an engrossing courtroom drama. Rainer Klausmann’s fluid camerawork is at its best here as he stays focused on Kruger throughout, proving how much she drives Akin’s narrative. Despite the judicial jargon, the emphasis remains on Kruger’s raw emotion and the psychological effects that Katja suffers as she hears the court’s acquittal of her family’s killers.
The third part of the film, set in Greece and titled “The Sea”, is where this slow-burn thriller really shines. It becomes clear that Katja’s purpose is more than just sightseeing as the narrative’s tone shifts to something reminiscent of film noir. After weeks of spiraling through grief and despair, Katja reaches the edge of moral crisis, with a final sequence that will leave the audience breathless as though they were hit with a colossal blast.
This powerful, troubling, and topically relevant narrative is a triumph, with Kruger giving a powerhouse performance that tops most–if not all–performances seen on the award circuit this year. In her first German-language film, Kruger demonstrates the ability to convey an inner strength rarely seen on screen, combined with a haunting sorrow that’s agonizing to watch, as Katja dulls her pain with any drug she can get her hands on; and, in one of her most powerful scenes, rising from her bathtub, covered in blood from the reddened water of her own opened wounds. From then on, frame after frame, Kruger’s performance as Katja grows, rightfully earning her the best actress prize at the 2017 Cannes film festival, but added to the growing list of performances that the Academy forgot.
(Featured Image: In the Fade, Warner Bros.)