'In the Fade'
A surprise winner of the Best Foreign Language Film trophy at the Golden Globes, ‘In the Fade’ is not a particularly easy or inspiring movie that one might expect to triumph at that ceremony. Harsh and even cruel to audiences, the film doesn’t reveal its true intentions and power until the final moments. Tough it out, though, because this is also one of the more intriguing (if miserable) movies of the year.
Fatih Akin’s movie doesn’t waste any time plunging audiences into its harrowing ordeal of a plot. After a brief giddy wedding prologue (at a prison, no less) and quick family introduction, Katja Sekerci (Diane Kruger) loses her Turkish husband and child in a terrorist bombing. The rush of joy is cut short by tragedy, and then the movie almost cruelly slows down to wallow in the aftermath. We look on helplessly as Katja goes through every agonizing moment involved in dealing with the death, from picking out a child-sized coffin to hearing the agonizing details of the murder. Accusations come at her from all sides, including the law (Katja and her late husband weren’t always upstanding citizens, though that time had passed). Throughout it all, Kruger gives a remarkable performance, both excruciatingly raw and oddly composed. It’s gutting stuff and also only the first of the film’s three chapters.
Once that fun is over, the movie slides into courtroom drama territory. It turns out that the culprits behind the bombing were a Neo-Nazi couple who committed the murders out of good old-fashioned racism. Admittedly, this is the least compelling portion of the film. It’s quite well acted and pointedly written, but gets dragged down by the stagy and slow nature of the courtroom process. That fits with the nature of this section of the story, though. After following her around almost uncomfortably close with his mobile cameras and trapping us in Katja’s point of view, the filmmaker sticks with her as she’s trapped by the justice system and forced to watch everything play out in painful slow motion. It at least seems like justice will be on her side (even the culprit’s parents show him no mercy), but soon the crimes in Katja and her husband’s past are brought up and, well… spoiler alert, this doesn’t end well.
After that, we’re shoved into a third act that we never could have expected. Battered, bruised and left with nothing after the ordeal of the first two parts of the film, Katja decides to take justice into her own hands. She tracks down the Neo-Nazis in Greece and ruminates over whether or not to take revenge. The film’s morality is not easily consumed. It questions and prods. It forces viewers into places that most humble moviegoers could never imagine themselves. The answers provided aren’t easy either. If anything, they only complicate matters.
‘In the Fade’ is a carefully crafted polemic. It’s no accident that writer/director Akin chose the beautiful (and white) Diane Kruger to be at the center of the story. Race is a prominent theme, and given everything that happens on screen to Kruger’s character and the actions that she ultimately takes, the film could have drawn very different responses if she wasn’t so porcelain pretty. However, by following her character through the series of tragedies and injustices that make up the plot and giving the actress so many opportunities to show off her skill and craft, we can’t help but feel fully on her side by the time the final hammer falls. Somehow, Akin manages to get us to empathize and identify with a character and action that, walking into the theater, we could never have imagined feeling any compassion for.
It’s a remarkable morality game hinged on an extraordinary performance. ‘In the Fade’ may be far from perfect. It suffers from pacing issues, some overly manipulative writing, and plenty of lag. However, what Akin ultimately accomplishes is a gut punch of a movie like no other on screens right now, all hinged on a character that we’ve never quite seen in a film before and played brilliantly by an actress who deserves more attention for this role and others. That’s enough to deserve the embracement of audiences, even if they’ll emerge from the theater battered and more confused about the issues at hand than when they came in. Sometimes, that’s a worthy moviegoing experience too.