Head On and Soul Kitchen director Fatih Akin returns to UK cinemas this week with In the Fade, a solid courtroom/revenge drama elevated by a superb performance – acting for the first time in a German production – by Diane Kruger.
We first meet Katja in prison where she is about to become Mrs. Sekerci, the wife of convicted drug dealer Nuri Sekerci. The wedding video shows the couple happy with their rings tattooed on their fingers. Such found footage will interleave each chapter of Akin’s movie. Some years later, Nuri is rehabilitated and has set up a business in town. He and Katja have a nice home and a young son Rocco and their troubles seem far behind them. However, a bomb blast in the street of Hamburg kills Nuri and Rocco and leaves Katja a grieving wreck.
The police initially seem more intent on her husband’s criminal record and religious beliefs than investigating the crime, ignoring her angry exclamation that it will be the Nazis. And her mother and Nuri’s parents offer only partial support, unable to let their resentments at the marriage go, even in the midst of grief. There is a danger that Katja will slide into bad habits as the torrential rain pathetic fallacies it down in the garden on the now unused trampoline.
Out of nowhere and just as Katja hits rock bottom, the police arrest two suspects, a husband and wife who do after all have Nazi affiliations. The court room scenes then take over, as civil order attempts to calmly assert itself in the face of horror and atrocity. As a co-plaintiff to the state, Katja attends the trial and her simmering rage and pain is brilliantly conveyed by Kruger. A scientific description of the wounds to Rocco’s body offer a terrifying moment of postmortem detail, one that Katja can’t bear.
In a way, In the Fade itself operates the same process as the trial: a methodical sifting of evidence and weighing of possibilities and struggling to contain the emotion which the crime elicits. There’s something highly familiar about the material and although it is artful and occasionally powerful, Akin and co-screenwriter Hark Bohm have constructed their story without straying far from countless other versions of the same thing.
Ultimately, the courts do not guarantee justice despite the assurances of Katja’s lawyer Danilo (Denis Moschitto) and Katja must seek an alternative recourse in the final act. In reaching for catharsis, the story begins to stretch credibility, but this is a minor criticism. Another one is the bland title – both in the original German and the very different English translation.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty