Director: Fatih Akin
Cast: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Johannes Krisch, Samia Chancrin, Numan Acar, Ulrich Tukur
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Acting in her native German for the first time, Diane Kruger unites with acclaimed director Fatih Akin (Head On, The Edge of Heaven) for In The Fade, an emotionally devastating drama that shines an all-too-topical light on the rise of far-right race-hate attacks.
A cameraphone-shot opening prologue introduces us to tattooed, bottle-blonde Katja (Kruger), as she marries former drug dealer Nuri Şekerci (Numan Acar) while he’s in prison. Six years later, the pair are happily married with an adorable young son (Rafael Santana), co-running a small tax return and travel agency in Hamburg’s Turkish quarter. One day, Katja returns from a spa date with a friend (Samia Chancrin) to discover that both her husband and son have been killed by a vicious nail-bomb attack at their workplace.
Numb with grief, Katja’s desperation intensifies when it becomes clear that the police are convinced Nuri’s former criminal cohorts are to blame for the attack, even though he’d been clean and straight since leaving prison. However, Katja is convinced that a young woman (Hanna Hilsdorf) she saw at the scene is responsible, and when she’s arrested with her neo-Nazi husband (Ulrich Friedrich Brandhoff), Katja is forced to attend a gruelling trial in which she’s both plaintiff and prosecution witness.
Akin introduces the family with impressive economy, ensuring emotional investment with just a few short scenes and the obvious chemistry between the two leads. That makes the aftermath of the attack all the more devastating; you live every moment of suffering and anger alongside Katja, which has complex consequences in the third act.
Delivering a career-best performance that deservedly won her the Best Actress award at Cannes, Kruger is devastating to watch, her pain so intense that it’s hard to look at her directly. There’s also strong support from Denis Moschitto as her best friend, who’s also her prosecution attorney, while Johannes Krisch is chillingly sinister as calculating defense lawyer Haverbeck.
Akin stages a number of impressive sequences, ranging from big scenes, such as Katja’s discovery of the attack, to smaller, equally powerful moments, such as a wordless exchange on the courtroom steps between Katja and Jurgen (Ulrich Tukur), the ashamed father who alerted the police when he found explosives in his son’s garage. The film is strikingly shot by cinematographer Rainer Klausmann (who works wonders with Hamburg’s rain-soaked streets) and there’s a deliberately unsettling score from Queens of the Stone Age front man Josh Homme.
Based on a real-life series of attacks that took place in Germany between 2000 and 2007, the film maintains a frightening topicality that strikes a disturbing chord in the post-Brexit, post-Trump era. The sense of hopelessness and anger is further compounded by the court case itself, which provokes additional howls of injustice at the way Katja’s past is used against her.
However, the film isn’t finished there, and Akin takes a provocative turn in the final act that won’t be to everyone’s taste, leaving you profoundly uncertain as to what to think. Maybe that’s the point.