In The Fade (Aus dem Nichts)

Germany (2017) Dir. Fatih Akin

The law exists for a reason but sometimes it is its own worst enemy when its rules are adhered to and fail to ensure justice is served. When the victims of a crime continue to suffer as the culprits walk away scot free, the idea of vengeance becomes an attractive and viable option

Kurdish-German drug dealer Nuri Şekerci (Numan Acar) leaves prison after marrying his German girlfriend Katja (Diane Kruger), has a son Rocco (Rafael Santana), and having studied business administration whilst inside, sets up his own company. But tragedy strikes when a nail bomb is detonated outside the office building killing Nuri and Rocco.

A distraught Katja attempts suicide, saved by a call from her lawyer Danilo Fava (Denis Moschitto) saying a Neo-Nazi husband and wife had been arrested. A lengthy court case ensues but lack of evidence, the possibility of a third culprit, and Katja’s discredited testimony due to her drug use sees the accused couple acquitted, leaving Katja to mete out her own justice.

In The Fade is a film about grief, criminal injustice, and base human emotions, in this instance revenge, yet it is also a tacit study of our perceptions of other people. German born director of Turkish descent, Fatih Akin has proven to a keen observer of the flawed aspects of the human race in his superb Cannes winning film The Edge Of Heaven and continues that here.

Loosely inspired by the real life bombing attacks in Cologne against non-Germans in 2004, Akin has the platform to explore this issue in depth but chooses to only use it as a minor point in determining the motive for the attack. Akin opens the film with Nuri and Katja’s wedding inside prison, the groom strutting about like the cock of the walk in his white suit while the tattooed bride is clearly high on life or maybe something else.

Straight away, this paints the picture of two decadent and possibly arrogant misfits most people would cross the road to avoid; the addition of Rocco doesn’t seemed to have dulled their maverick joie de vivre with his inherited potty mouth but with their middle class car, and self-built business Nuri is cleaning his act up. So why would someone murder him?

The police leap to the conclusion Nuri was still dealing and had unfinished business with his erstwhile Kurdish drug buddies or maybe it was a Jihadist attack. With Katja’s insistence Nuri was clean, non-religious, and apolitical, the next suggestion is it was racially motivated when Katja recalls talking to a blonde woman (Hanna Hilsdorf) leaving her bike unchained outside the building when she dropped Rocco off at the office.

Once the bike was discovered to have contained the nail bomb, the woman’s profile reveals her to be Neo-Nazi Edda Möller. She is soon arrested along with her husband André (Ulrich Brandhoff) and charged. Continuing the theme of perception, the Möllers look like your average couple in contrast to the flamboyant Nuri and the punkish Katja, flipping the dynamic of what a typical criminal and victim look like.

But it is this mien that grounds Katja in light of the extraordinary circumstances she finds herself embroiled in, propagating the “it can happen to anyone” theory. Whilst we sympathise with this mother without a child and a wife without a husband unable to deal with her grief because of the investigation, Katja’s self-medicating to cope pushed things back into fiction.    

In fact, there is a lot about Katja which is contradictory – her non-conformist, party girl attitude clashes with the conventional loving mother and wife role, not to mention the big middle class house and BMW car. Later the jeans and torn T-shirts are supplanted with smarter attire, along with a more mature attitude in executing her revenge against the Möllers, which sees her travel to Greece, rent a home, and plan her course of action.

Despite this, Katja is a well-defined character, compared to the supporting cast, like the Möllers and their lawyer (Johannes Krisch) – his hectoring, sledgehammer approach, and penchant for the low blow is borderline old school Nazi – who are a little one dimensional but effective in their roles. With her family also contributing to her pain, Katja is like the sun but with satellites of misery orbiting her.

We feel for her and root for her because of the outstanding turn from Diane Kruger, in a performance where its polish is actually the grittiness and lack of artifice. Katja is taken through a hellacious arc of tragedy, betrayal by the system, and having to confront her anger alone, and Kruger nails every stage of this with intuitive precision. She may not make a believable vigilante but that is the fault of the script which tries to tell three different stories – a social drama, court drama and revenge drama.

Akin does keep the movement from one stage to the next steady and logical – as much as trans-continental murderous intent is logical – to tell a complete story but it becomes evident early on that each one is worthy of full attention individually. The murders occur inside the first 10 minutes, facilitating the necessary sudden shock factor which works in that context, earning a pass but, the compelling nature of the court case with its natural ebbs and flows demands deeper attention.

The final act is the most contrived in its construction and execution, the sun soaked location partially complicit in eroding the earlier gnarly atmosphere rife with bleak, raw emotion and tension, replaced by cinematic panache. There’s nothing essentially wrong with it and the climax is devastating, yet feels arguably detached from everything that preceded it.

It’s tempting to give sole credit to Kruger’s performance as the main selling point for In The Fade but it does have a robust story raising some keen issues about flawed people bound by a flawed justice system that warrant deeper discussion. Serviceable enough for what it does achieve.