AFI Fest 2017: In the Fade, by David Bax
Fatih Akin’s In the Fade is a story about revenge. But before you get pictures in your head of grimly resolute characters setting out to even the score like cowboys in some old Western, know that it’s not that kind of revenge movie. First, it’s a movie about grief and the queasy banality of going about your day with a hole in your soul, subjecting yourself to painful and stupid rituals like shopping for the right coffin in which to bury your dead loved one’s remains for all eternity. Then it’s a procedural. Then, finally, it’s a story not of revenge but about revenge. Who is it for? And what does it accomplish?
Diane Kruger stars as Katja Sekerci, a woman whose life is torn asunder one overcast day when an explosion in Hamburg kills her Turkish husband, Nuri (Numan Acar), and their son, Rocco. In stark, saturated, widescreen imagery courtesy of cinematographer Rainer Klausman (Downfall, Akin’s masterful Head-On), Katja takes on the challenges as they come in the aftermath. From her family to Nuri’s to the cops to the courts to the alleged neo-Nazi bombers, she faces down every awful thing that she never asked for sent her way, becoming undone and remade in the process.
In the Fade addresses an increasingly sad truth of Western culture which is that, when a Muslim—especially one with dark skin and an Arabic name—is involved in a murder, their religion will bring suspicion whether they are the murderer or the victim. From there, it moves on to a problem that may be a bit more specifically German; namely, the reaction of the country to distance itself from Nazism. After it’s confirmed that the perpetrator of the bombing is white, there’s an immediate assumption on the part of the media and the authorities that they must have come from “Eastern Europe” or, really, anywhere outside of the country. These conclusions are drawn almost instinctively, without conversation, and the only effect they have is to slow down the investigation.
Once we get to the courtroom, In the Fade changes course, becoming a livelier but no less gut-wrenching movie. The trial is full of eloquent speeches and dazzling feats of lawyerly acumen but Akin and Kruger never forget to focus first on the effect it all has on Katja. For the entire middle stretch of the movie, our protagonist is essentially sidelined. Rather than draining the film’s momentum, though, this section only brings us closer to Katja’s subjective state, watching helplessly.
We won’t be passive for long, though, as the final third of the movie puts us so thoroughly in Katja’s place while she decides what to do with the rest of her life that our hearts seem to beat along with hers. In the Fade may play with European politics and with narrative structures that will be more familiar to us Americans but all of that is just the frame that houses its real story, one of the human soul, the damage that can be done to it and the damage it can do.