In the Fade Review
It’s unfortunate that we’ve arrived at a time in history where a film about murderous Neo Nazis being brought to justice feels prescient - and it’s doubly disappointing that said film, Fatih Akin’s Golden Globe winner In the Fade, squanders its premise, saying very little about the resurgence of extreme-right terrorism. The film picked up some serious silverware during the recent awards season, falling only at the final hurdle when it failed to receive an Oscar nomination.
As it finally hits UK screens, with some distance separating its release from those earlier wins, you’d never guess that this was formerly a serious awards contender. In fact, based on the quality of the film itself, a more cynically minded viewer would jump to the conclusion that the film’s relative critical success was down to the importance of the subject matter in this turbulent political moment and nothing more. There’s a tender and affecting character drama buried within Akin’s film, obscured by unnecessary melodramatic beats and unrealistic plot developments that lessen the real-world impact of far right terrorism of the kind depicted here.
Diane Kruger stars as Katja, who lives in Hamburg with her Kurdish husband Nuri (Numan Acar) and their five-year-old son Rocco. Katja and Nuri met while she was a student, although he soon got arrested for dealing drugs, with the pair marrying towards the end of his prison sentence - thanks to the birth of a child, he is now on the straight and narrow, working at a tax office in a Turkish neighbourhood. One day, after leaving Rocco with Nuri as she went to visit a friend, Katja returns to find that a terrorist attack has occurred outside Nuri’s office, with her husband and child being the only two fatalities.
After intense questioning from authorities, who are trying to pin the blame on somebody seeking vengeance for reasons relating to Nuri’s past, they soon come to a conclusion - this was a calculated attack by members of a Neo Nazi unit. Brought to a harrowing trial, Katja finds her own personal life interrogated as much as those who committed the atrocity, in lines of questioning that obfuscate the clear facts of the case, making it harder for justice to be served.
There’s a notable disconnect between the increased melodrama and the subject at hand. The dialogue is ropey to the point of jettisoning all aspirations to realism; after her husband and child had been murdered, you’d expect the officer investigating the case to say something slightly more sympathetic than informing her that her family are now “just body parts”. By the time we get to the court case itself, we’ve got “you can’t handle the truth!” style speeches, violent outbursts in the courtroom, and a concluding note that’s one of the most illogical storytelling decisions imaginable, that Akin forces into proceedings to create renewed conflict. Again, if this story exists as a parallel to similar events in the real world, the aching pain of the stories in the headlines has been replaced with dramatic inventions that are surplus to requirements. After all, the very nature of the fallout from a terrorist attack is a compelling drama and interesting anthropological study all by itself.
The third act makes gestures towards exploitation cinema, without the confidence to follow the melodrama through to its natural conclusion. Akin clearly wants to be respectful to those who have lost loved ones through similar tragedies in real life, which leads to an awkward balance between elements ripped from the headlines and exaggerated melodramatic beats. It may have been tasteless for him to embrace the revenge thriller angle (which, bizarrely, the film is being marketed as anyway), but at least it wouldn’t awkwardly be caught between two stools, never satisfying as either a character drama or a comparably heightened narrative.
By the time In the Fade concludes with the most unnecessary post-script of all time, existing largely to remind us that Nazis are bad, the messy tonal dissonance ceases to be frustrating and the mishandling of several narrative elements instead becomes even more perplexing in retrospect.