IN THE FADE: Diane Kruger’s Descent Into Darkness
Diane Kruger carries In the Fade on her leather-clad shoulders and ensures that you’ll walk away from the film feeling absolutely rattled.
The National Socialists who terrorized Europe during World War II committed atrocities that ensured their place in history among the most villainous characters of all time. It’s no wonder, then, that cinema returns to stories centered on Nazis time and time again; it’s easy to root for good over evil when the evil is so extreme, so obvious, so utterly despicable as to be incomprehensible to any normal human being. It helps that we know, in the end, who will win the war against the Nazis. No matter how bad things get in your average World War II film, one can find comfort in knowing that in the end, good will indeed triumph over evil.
Yet despite what every flag-waving drama focused on the Greatest Generation might want audiences to believe, Nazis are not just a nightmare of the past; they remain an all-too-real source of evil in modern society. Just because you cannot always pick them out of a crowd by looking for obvious signifiers like swastika armbands doesn’t mean they don’t still exist, stoking hatred on the Internet and terrorizing anyone who they deem less human than them.
Fatih Akin, a German filmmaker of Turkish descent, focuses on this modern iteration of Nazi in his new drama In the Fade. Set in the vibrant and diverse city of Hamburg – Akin’s hometown – In the Fade chronicles one German woman’s attempt to avenge the deaths of the her Turkish-born husband and son after they die in a terrorist attack. It’s intense, frightening and all too believable – even if in some moments it is also guilty of being all too predictable.
A Family Tragedy
Katja (Diane Kruger, starring in her first film in her native German) met Nuri (Numan Acar) in college when she bought drugs from him; she eventually dropped out of school and married Nuri while he was in prison, serving time for his drug-dealing activities. Yet upon his release Nuri turned his life around, opening a tax and translation office in Hamburg’s Turkish neighborhood and leaving all illegal activities behind for the sake of his wife and young son, Rocco. That office is where Nuri and Rocco will die as the result of a bomb planted by neo-Nazis.
Katja’s entire existence collapses with the loss of Nuri and Rocco. She previously spent her days handling the bookkeeping for Nuri’s business and taking care of Rocco; now, she has nothing to do but wallow in her grief. The capture and trial of the young couple believed to be responsible for the explosion gives Katja her only motivation to keep on living.
Yet despite the admirable efforts of Katja’s friend and lawyer, Danilo (Denis Moschitto), it quickly becomes clear that the judicial process doesn’t always result in justice being served. So, Katja decides to take matters into her own hands, embarking on a very personal – and very dangerous – quest for revenge.
Disorder in the Court
In the Fade is in many ways a standard courtroom drama-slash-revenge flick. The trial portion of the film, while containing many heartbreaking scenes, feels predictable overall; one knows that Katja won’t achieve justice in the courtroom or else the movie would abruptly come to an end without there being any need for the vigilante justice so prominently featured in the film’s marketing.
But that won’t prevent you from feeling Katja’s grief as she listens to the medical examiner detail the horrifying ways Rocco was mutilated in the explosion, or her fury as she watches the neo-Nazi couple jump into each other’s arms, knowing that they’re the reason she will never embrace Nuri ever again.
Because of its insanely high stakes, In the Fade is electric with tension that throbs in your brain like speakers turned up too high at a rock concert. The final third of the film, in which Katja sets out to ensure that justice is served by any means necessary, is the most overwhelmed with anxiety I’ve been in a movie theater all year.
This effect is only accentuated further by an intense musical score courtesy of Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. So heavy is the influence of Queens of the Stone Age on the movie that the English-language title is even adapted from one of their songs; the original German title, Aus dem Nichts, more accurately translates to “from nothing.”
Made in Germany
While the music and other directorial choices serve to ratchet up the tension, it is the performance of Diane Kruger that keeps you utterly engaged with In the Fade until its explosive final moments. Not only is In the Fade Kruger’s first film in her native language, it’s also the most prominent onscreen role she has ever had; she appears in practically every scene of the film. Yet Kruger embraces these practical challenges, as well as the considerable emotional challenges inherent in the role, and delivers an absolutely transformative performance.
Katja is put through the ultimate wringer throughout the film, constantly veering between utter hopelessness and defiant anger; it would be easy to fall into the trap of portraying a woman suffering such unspeakable horrors by resorting to hysterics. Kruger’s performance is far more subtle and complex than that, and aided by specific physical touches that add an edge to Kruger’s elegant natural beauty and tell the audience more about Katja’s personality and history. These include numerous tattoos that were designed to be similar to Akin’s own ink.
Indeed, in the Q&A that followed the screening of In the Fade that I attended at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Akin went so far as to say that he wanted Katja to be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed avatar of himself; he wanted to cast a woman who would be a Nazi’s ideal as the sworn enemy of Nazis, and to inject his own anger about the way he is treated as an “other” by neo-Nazis and their ilk into the character of an Aryan-looking woman who would otherwise be embraced by them.
Kruger’s haunting, harrowing performance and the film’s timely setting – a modern Germany still coming to terms with its increasingly diverse population – both elevate In the Fade above the weaknesses of its script. Too often do people in the twenty-first century automatically associate acts of terrorism with Muslim perpetrators; In the Fade turns that misguided stereotype on its head and reminds us that terrorists and their victims come from every race and religion.
One’s appreciation of the film is increased further if one has better-than-average knowledge of Germany’s very recent past. Akin’s fictional story is inspired by the all-too-real trial of the National Socialist Underground members accused of several xenophobic murders between 2000 and 2007; the trial has been going on since 2013 and still appears to have no end in sight. Akin’s frustration with the lack of justice being delivered in court in that case shines through every scene of In the Fade.
In The Fade: Conclusion
Diane Kruger carries In the Fade on her leather-clad shoulders and ensures that you’ll walk away from the film feeling absolutely rattled. Despite an arc that feels reminiscent of similar films that came before it, the film’s focus on timely social issues make it stand out from the pack.
It’s almost a guarantee that January, typically a barren month for movie releases, will be littered with sub-par action thrillers starring angry men; take a chance on In the Fade instead.
What do you think? Does the idea of Diane Kruger fighting Nazis and injustice sound appealing to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
In the Fade is released in theaters in the U.S. on December 27, 2017. You can find more international release dates here.
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