Review by Jacquelin Hipes
In the Fade, Germany’s selection for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards, has already seen its share of plaudits ahead of an American release. Diane Kruger won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, where the film was also in competition for the Palme d’Or, and it recently scored a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language. While there are undoubtedly components worthy of praise, the main problem with In the Fade is that we have seen this story many, many times before.
Katja Sekerci’s (Diane Kruger) contented life with husband Nuri (Numan Acar) and son Michi (Uwe Rohde) gets upended when a bomb attack kills them both. Police initially think religious extremism—Nuri’s father has a Kurdish background—or criminal associates from Nuri’s past as a drug dealer are responsible. Katja, knowing her husband was agnostic and had cut all ties to his former profession, suspects neo-Nazis instead. Although she gives a statement identifying a suspicious young woman near her husband’s office before the explosion, the investigation follows several dead ends before culminating in arrests which appear to corroborate her original suspicions. During the subsequent trial, Katja struggles with feelings of grief and guilt, as well as an urgent need to see punishment doled out by an oppressively bureaucratic system.
In the Fade follows a standard formula for murder-revenge movies. First, a murder occurs; next, the wheels of justice begin to turn; finally, the surviving loved one seeks vengeance herself. Writer-director Fatih Akin (who co-wrote the script with Hark Bohm) executes the narrative conventions adroitly, yet he falls short of adding anything novel to the genre. A post-script makes note of recent xenophobic violence in Germany but in the film the attack is so abrupt, the antagonists given so little to do that the cascading series of events feel like a faint facsimile of reality. Also, the story is awkwardly divided into three chapters. The first gets announced before the main title card, which may lead some to think they’re watching a movie called “I. Family”. Although they mark new sections of story, the other two differ in no way stylistically or tonally from the first chapter or one another, rendering them a bit superfluous.
Working in the movie’s favor are excellent performances from both Kruger and Denis Moschitto, who plays a family friend and lawyer representing Katja. Kruger shines brightest when freed from the script’s speaking duties. Listening to a coroner describe her son’s injuries in court, grief and rage mix in her expression with alchemical potency; when her sister and newborn nephew come to visit, the pain at watching another woman nurse an infant seems almost fatal. Moschitto injects some welcome fire into court proceedings, where the defense counsel (Johannes Krisch) and accused (Ulrich Brandhoff and Hanna Hilsdorf) all look appropriately slimy.
In the Fade plays out more engagingly than the script would otherwise allow thanks to some clever camerawork by cinematographer Rainer Klausmann. Several long, unbroken takes help build tension during moments of predictability.
As we learn every year, awards are often fickle and subjective distinctions. What stands out for one audience member may fade into the background for another. While In the Fade falls short of reinventing or reinvigorating the revenge thriller, it gets enough out of a talented cast to make up for what’s lost in telling an average, familiar tale.
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