Review: In the Fade

Three-act terrorism drama traces the arc of despair to determination. Diane Kruger is breath-taking in the central role.

As Europe is increasingly wracked by the rise of right wing extremists, Fatih Akin (The Cut, Head-On) turns the global terrorism narrative on its head in searing drama In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts). Based on a spate of Neo-Nazi killings in Hamburg in the early 2000s that targeted Turkish, Greek and Kurdish immigrants – claiming the life of one of the filmmaker’s brother’s friends ­– here the victims are perceived as, though not necessarily, Muslim, and the killers are white.

But rather than a film about insane ideologies, truly Akin is interested in the shattered remnants the people left behind, by how they might begin to rebuild their lives or instead be consumed by the hate that horror unleashes.

Kruger plays Katja, a tattooed free spirit who married her Kurdish background husband Nuri (Homeland’s Numan Akar) while he was in prison for dealing – they first met when she bought dope from him. Now reformed, he runs the travel agent and tax return office where she drops off her six-year-old son Rocco, warning a woman out front to lock up her bike in this neighbourhood.

That brief encounter, like a spectral image, will become central to the second act’s rapid-fire courtroom drama, but the first ‘film’ is all about the raw animal grief of unimaginable loss. Katja is hurled into a well of despair following a nail bombing that obliterates her young family. It’s very easy to see why Kruger won at Cannes for her depiction of emotional agony, brought to the brink of oblivion and pushed just over, then hauled back by her furious determination for justice.

The second act shifts from haunted devastation, where a hollowed out Katja, fending off prejudiced assumptions from investigating cops, seems all alone even when surrounded by factious extended family, to the gripping court case where defendants Edda (Hanna Hilsdorf) and André (Ulrich Friedrich Brandhoff) stand accused as the neo-Nazis behind the bombings.

If Johannes Krisch is a little too on-the-nose as their caustic lawyer, it’s nonetheless a gripping battle as he goes for Katja’s credibility as a witness, dredging up her drug use as a means by which to invalidate her, sorely trying her impassioned lawyer, Danillo (Denis Moschitto), an also-grieving friend of Nuri.

I won’t say too much about where it goes from there, but the final act ramps things up dramatically in an explosive Greek-set coda that wilfully challenges the audience’s moral standpoint.

Scoring the Golden Globe for best foreign film, In the Fade was overlooked at the Oscars, but it’s an impressive ride accompanied by a suitably sombre score from Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, who of course found himself caught up in the terrorist attack at Paris’ Batalclan while performing with the Eagles of Death Metal.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords