Fatih Akin’s In The Fade is dampened by melodrama and contrivance

Diane Kruger is propulsive: but she has an instinct for subtlety that isn’t shared by her director.

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As Katja, a woman whose grief warps into vengeance, Diane Kruger suggests the lovechild of Jessica Lange and Lee Van Cleef: the face is soft as blossom, the intent behind it taut and cruel. At the start of In the Fade, Katja drops off her five-year-old son, Rocco (Rafael Santana), with her husband, Nuri (Numan Acar), at his office while she heads to the spa. When she drives back that evening to collect them both, the buildings are flashing blue with ambulance lights. There has been an explosion. Running from her car, she bursts through the cordon and is brought to the ground by police. When she is informed later that the two fatalities are a man and a boy, she hits the ground a second time, taking the camera down with her.

Anyone familiar with Fatih Akin, a German filmmaker of Turkish descent, will know by now that his work, which includes Head On and The Edge of Reason, should be approached with eagerness; along with Christian Petzold, he is the finest, fiercest chronicler of his country’s ills since Fassbinder. But there may be trepidation, too: his movies are no walk in the park, unless the park in question is frequented solely by the forlorn and forgotten, as well as the occasional thug, gangster or neo-Nazi.

Those parts of In the Fade where tenderness might be expected to flourish prove discouragingly barren. Nuri’s parents only seem interested in taking the dead back to Turkish soil. (Katja has a quick toot of coke and then tells them what she thinks of their bright idea.) The police aren’t much better. “I want to see my loved ones,” Katja says. “They’re no longer people,” says the police captain, “only body parts.” Presumably he was off sick during the last Treating Bereavement with Tact and Sensitivity day.

Without warning, the operative word changes from “explosion” to “bomb”. That’s when the blame game starts, with all fingers pointing away from Germany. The police announce their search for an eastern European suspect, despite Katja’s insistence that a woman whom she remembers acting suspiciously looked “as German as me”. Next, they ask about Nuri: was he Muslim? Katja’s mother speculates that he must have been “mixed up in something” while the police dredge up his criminal record and make him a victim all over again, this time of posthumous racism. Could he have been involved with the Turkish or Albanian mafia? And how did he and Katja afford such an expensive home?

As Katja fields these questions, a toy police helicopter sits on the windowsill behind her, a relic of Rocco’s playtimes but also a reminder of the innate faith in authority that is now being abused and eroded. In the space where Nuri and Rocco once were, sadness floods in, but so does racism – ironic, given that this transpires to be the motivation for the attack itself.

A rather routine second section covers the court case, and a mildly preposterous final one its aftermath. Kruger’s performance, though, is propulsive: her rage and single-mindedness pulls the picture through its less confident patches, and she has an instinct for subtlety that isn’t always mirrored in her director, whose appetite for melodrama or contrivance can be destabilising. Near the end of the film, there’s a moment where Katja eavesdrops on some nasty types who just happen to say some incriminating things in clear and helpful voices. There is some justification for its one grand guignol moment, when Katja emerges from a bath of blood, revived by the promise of justice. But there is no excuse, surely, for resorting at the moment of the verdict to that disorienting camera move sometimes known as the “dolly zoom”, where the subject seems to move towards us while the background retreats – think James Stewart dangling from the guttering in Vertigo or Roy Scheider on the beach in Jaws.

You don’t cast someone as deft as Kruger (named Best Actress at Cannes last year for this performance) and then augment her work with gimmicks. No one who can catalogue a mother’s internal desolation, as she hears the details of her son’s injuries read out in court like items on a shopping list, needs any help with the business of acting. 

In the Fade (15)
dir: Fatih Akin

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Conservatives in crisis