As we bid farewell to the last 365 days or so of rising white nationalism in America, there’s some horrific comfort to take in watching a film that explores white nationalism in another country, on another continent, as if to remind us Americans that we aren’t alone in our hate—that: a) Nazi activity is still real in 2017 (and will be in 2018), and b) the less willing we are to accept that, the more easily Nazis can get away with being Nazis.
Fatih Akin’s In the Fade begins with a prison wedding and segues into a brisk portrait of domestic bliss before blowing everything up. Kruger plays Katja Sekerci, a Hamburg native married to Nuri Sekerci (Numan Acar), once a drug dealer, now on the straight and narrow working at a tax office and offering translation services to fellow Turkish locals. Katja and Nuri have a son, Rocco, and together they have something close to Eden. But then Katja swings by Nuri’s office in the evening to pick up Rocco, having spent the day at a spa with her friend, and finds that the building has been turned to ash and rubble by a massive explosion. In one instant, her whole life changes. The trajectory of her grief on learning of her husband and son’s death is breathtaking.
This is a vulturous observation to make, but In the Fade stays in Kruger’s orbit even as the film morphs from bereavement drama to courtroom drama to a facsimile of a revenge flick. She doesn’t give Akin’s work weight, because the weight is already there. She demonstrates the gravity of the material. Watching her inhabit Katja’s emotional experience from the moment she learns of Nuri and Rocco’s murders to the film’s final scene is a grim privilege. Kruger has steel to spare. In the Fade asks her to bend that steel, not to a breaking point but to such a degree that by the time the film finishes she has forced herself into an altogether different shape.
In between its more profound revelations and developments, Kruger shows us the cracks in Katja’s otherwise perfect existence pre-explosion: Neither her family nor Nuri’s wanted them wed, and that’s their families. We don’t directly witness German anti-Muslim sentiment from outside of Katja’s circle of friends and kin, but we sense it. Akin only gives it explicit form through the attack on Nuri’s office, which we eventually learn is the work of a pair of Nazi lovers. Prior to that, the law assumes Nuri got back into drug trafficking, which is to say that the law profiles him, as if it’s not bad enough that Nuri is singled out and killed by Nazis in the first place. Akin puts white nationalism at In the Fade’s forefront, but he grounds it in less overt forms of bigotry.
That’s a smart move on Akin’s part, especially as the film progresses toward its third act, but neither he nor In the Fade mean to make an exposé on how widespread discrimination is the foundation of hate crimes. This is a middle finger raised in the direction of white nationalists everywhere, and their advocates, and their defenders. This is art about the anguish that ideology wreaks on innocent people going about their day, never suspecting that their lives are about to end in a fireball. During the movie’s courtroom segments, one witness recounts the step-by-step formation of the explosion, studiously noting the damage done to Rocco’s body to the judges. Simultaneously, Akin shifts to deep focus, and we see Katja seated behind the witness, captured together in the same sharply adjusted image. The effect is agonizing: Oblivious, the witness gives her testimony while Katja looks as if her heart withers with every word.
Like Jeremy Saulnier’s 2016 film Green Room, In the Fade translates hate speech for what it is: Incitement of violence. Rising white nationalist sentiment isn’t about the preservation of white culture. It’s about terminating others. Intimately, quietly, painfully, In the Fade reckons with supremacist beliefs, centering that process on Katja, and on Kruger, who breathes life and humanity into a film that intentionally lacks in both. Akin’s movie is worth seeking out on its own merits, and his subject matter is urgent, but Kruger makes them both feel essential.
Director: Fatih Akin
Writer: Fatih Akin
Starring: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Johannes Krisch, Ulrich Tukur, Numan Acar, Rafael Santana, Samia Chancrin
Release Date: December 27, 2017
Boston-based pop culture critic Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste since 2013. He also writes words for The Playlist, WBUR’s The ARTery, Slant Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, Polygon, Thrillist and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.