‘In the Fade’ Is a Tale of Grief and Violence in Modern Germany

Posted December 26, 2017 3:15 p.m. EST

“In the Fade,” the new film by Fatih Akin, is divided into three parts. The first two follow a pattern that will be familiar to “Law & Order” fans. A crime is investigated, and then a trial conducted, with a few twists and reversals on the way to the verdict. The emphasis, though, falls less on the procedural aspects of the case than its psychological effects, specifically on Katja Sekerci (Diane Kruger), a German woman whose husband and young son are killed in a bombing in Hamburg.

Akin, whose previous features include the explosive “Head-On” and the sprawling, wrenching political melodrama “The Edge of Heaven,” observes his characters and their social environment with a rigorously measured mix of intensity and detachment. Katja, in the days and weeks after the attack, spirals through stages of grief, shock and despair. Surrounded by relatives, friends and in-laws, and visited by pushy, polite detectives, she seems desperately, furiously alone. Because her husband, Nuri (Numan Akar), was a Turkish immigrant and a former drug dealer, the police raise the specters of Islamist terrorism and gang activity. Katja is adamant: “Nazis killed my husband.” She has the grim satisfaction of being right.

If the first section of “In the Fade” provides a series of snapshots of a contemporary German life — the hectic pleasures of its big cities; its ambivalent multiculturalism; its bureaucratic humanism — the second part zeros in on the gears of the country’s legal system. Subtlety gives way to blunter characterizations when the two main advocates spar in the courtroom. Katja’s interests are represented by an old friend (Denis Moschitto), who seems kind and conscientious. The accused murderers, a young married couple, are defended by a tall, bald, sarcastic lawyer (Johannes Krisch) who is perhaps a bit too transparently villainous.

But he does succeed in galvanizing the audience’s disgust, and in reframing the story as a conflict between the desire for justice and the drive for vengeance. This is a venerable theme in movies, driving the plots of most westerns. In this instance, it carries an extra jolt of political relevance. How should liberal societies deal with homegrown political extremists, who seek protection from the democratic norms and institutions they are committed to destroying? How should the victims of far-right-wing violence fight back?

That last question brings about a startling change of scene and tone in the movie’s final section, which feels like a miniature film noir set in the incongruous sunshine of Greece. But just as “In the Fade” should be reaching its starkest, sharpest point, as Katja’s pain pushes her toward a moral crisis, Akin’s focus seems to waver, and the sense of tough existential clarity that is his greatest virtue goes blurry. The ending is puzzling, when it wants to be devastating, and the political and personal sides of the story, rather than illuminating each other, fight to a stalemate.

Kruger, however, who won the best actress award at Cannes in May, leaves a vivid, haunting impression. Katja, who has already traveled a path from wildness to domestic stability, struggles with the enforced passivity of violent bereavement. With her husband and son gone, the world is dislodged from its axis, and there is nothing Katja can do to set it right again. Dwelling in her sorrow is agonizing, but moving on might be even worse.


Production Notes:

‘In the Fade’

Rated R. Remorseless violence. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. In German and English, with English subtitles.