In the Fade Rubs Out Boundaries of Moral Behaviour

Movie Review: In the Fade

Diane Kruger won best acting honours at Cannes for good reason: her performance as a grieving mother and widow in the wake of a terrorist attack takes us from a noble quest for justice to the cellar of revenge

In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts)

4/5

Starring: Diane Kruger, Numan Acar, Denis Moschitto

Directed by: Fatih Akin

Running time: 1 hr 46 mins

Rating: Resricted

In German with English Subtitles

By Katherine Monk

Diane Kruger burst out of the awards gate early, picking up the best actress prize at Cannes for In the Fade, then slowly fading out in the wake of the McDormand-Streep eclipse. Yet, behind those two formidable orbs, and lurking beyond the moons of Saoirse, Sally and Margot, is the hidden star of Kruger — whose light has been shining for over a decade in the not-too-distant universe of foreign language film.

Best known to English audiences for her work on Inglorious Basterds (Brigitte von Hammersmark), National Treasure (Abigail Chase) and The Bridge (Sonya Cross), Kruger was also the long-time girlfriend of Canadian actor Joshua Jackson (The Affair). Since her debut in 2001, she’s made a few orbits around the gas-giant of celebrity, but her turn as Katja heralds a whole new horizon for the polyglot performer.

We meet writer-director Fatih Akin’s central character in the opening montage. We see jubilant men, all prisoners, congratulating a fellow inmate as he makes his way through a labyrinth of locked doors and iron bars. He’s big, handsome, bearded, swarthy. The camera follows him to an open, sunlit room where we first see Katja. She is pale, blue-eyed, delicate.

The contrasts are palpable. Yet, when they lay eyes on each other, they fuse into one spinning, smiling image of love. Akin captures the euphoria, but he reminds us it’s behind bars.

Therein lies the rub of In the Fade. We’re captives: Captive of the past, the judgment of others, our own experience and expectations.

Katja always thought of herself as a free-spirit. It’s part of why she married Nuri (Numan Acar), her old hash dealer from university, despite protests from both sides of the family. She loves who she loves, and for the brief moments in their presence, she and Nuri seem like the ideal 21st century couple.

Yet, the visual bliss is blown apart early in the first act. A bomb kills Nuri and their five-year-old son. Katja is left behind, and from that point on, all we can do is watch her go down the long spiral staircase of despair.

There is no better showcase for any actress than an extended, tread-by-tread, descent. It can make a career. Just ask Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson or Vivien Leigh. Kruger pulls off the same depths and flirts with similar melodrama, but this is a staircase of soul.

There is no better showcase for any actress than an extended, tread-by-tread, descent. It can make a career. Just ask Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson or Vivien Leigh. Kruger pulls off the same depths and flirts with similar melodrama, but this is a staircase of soul.

Katja moves from noble grief to depression, and eventually collapses on the landing of revenge. She becomes obsessed with finding the guilty parties and bringing them to justice. The institutions are supposed to help her, but the subtleties of racism slowly become palpable. At one point, when we realize the bomb was planted by Neo-Nazis, it’s undeniable. Yet, ideology and actions are very different things under the law, and Katja’s suffering only grows more acute as she sits and listens to the forensic details.

Director Akin gets a little forceful in the pivotal courtroom scenes, but we’re grateful to have them. The medicinal whiff of police procedural helps us swallow the emotional bolus of loss and put it into context. Without it, we’d be stuck at the very bottom, subject to the rip tides of grief, rolling over the coral reef of trauma alongside Katja.

Akin spares us this fate. He also gives Katja a hard bottom to kick up against. Witnessing so much struggle, so much unfathomable pain, would have been a hardship were it not for Kruger’s ability to navigate the deep inlets of personal willpower.

Through tear-smeared glances into empty space, we feel something building beneath the surface. We’re never sure exactly what it is until the final frames, when both Akin and Kruger take a deep breath and exhale the toxins of our times in one fiery plume of personal affirmation… and mutual destruction.

@katherinemonk

 

THE EX-PRESS, January 26, 2018

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Review: In the Fade

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Summary

Diane Kruger burst out of the gate early for awards season, and for good reason. Her performance as Katja, a German woman married to a Turkish man, pushes the viewer to the very edges of empathy as she tries to reconcile the death of her husband and child in a terrorist attack. This is not a flattering portrait of rage, but as ugly as the inability to forgive can be, we're still with her for the fight. -- Katherine Monk

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