In the Fade, the latest winner of the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film, is the kind of flick that benefits from not knowing much about it, going in. It’s not a puzzle-box film — far from it. Instead, In the Fade is a wrenching examination of the seemingly bottomless grief that comes after a senseless terror attack. It’s also a film that respects duration. Rather than go for economical, Hollywood-style shorthand, In the Fade‘s story lets its characters — especially the grieving mother played by Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds) — feel their pain and work through it. This can lead to plenty of unexpected emotional grace notes, even if the story of the film goes down a path that (sadly, for humanity) feels inevitable.
In other words, if the knowledge that In the Fade is a sensitively directed and intensely acted drama that might just rip your guts out — but in a way that feels oddly necessary at this moment — is enough to persuade you to see it, I would stop reading right now.
If you need a little more to latch on to, I’ll offer a little more.
When we first meet Kruger’s character Katja, she is getting married in a prison office to a Turkish man who is still incarcerated, Nuri (Numan Acar). We flash-forward some years and both Katja and Nuri have settled down into a placid family life in Hamburg, Germany, with a precocious and adorable young son, Rocco (Rafael Santana). Katja drops the kid off with Dad to go out with a girlfriend, and when she returns, she discovers that a bomb has exploded outside Nuri’s office. Nuri and Rocco are missing, possibly dead, and the cops ask the traumatized Katja to provide them with toothbrushes, so they can DNA-test some unrecognizable bodies found at the scene.
This, sadly, is not the last imposition from the police. When the results reveal that Nuri and Rocco are indeed dead, then detectives start asking about Nuri’s criminal past, his potential ties to Muslim groups, or extreme political groups. When Katja offers the alternative that this could be a random hate crime in the Turkish neighborhood, the cops dismiss it.
Katja’s parents and Nuri’s parents both lay different unfair guilt trips upon her, for the life she and her husband presumably led that caused this tragedy. When it is at last revealed that Neo-Nazis are indeed responsible for the bombing, this offers little relief, and in fact means the further trauma of a court proceeding lies ahead.
Diane Kruger won the Best Actress award at the last Cannes Film Festival for In the Fade, and it’s easy to see why. Her character is put through the wringer at nearly every stage of the film, and Kruger never plays a false note. The film flirts with genre conventions, and the narrative sporadically threatens to transform into a standard courtroom drama or vigilante revenge thriller, but director Fatih Akin (Head-On) uses familiar tropes only to contextualize the film’s much more realistic emotions. Sometimes we think we know how things ought to turn out but, as In the Fade suggests, often we’re wrong.
In the Fade is currently in theaters in select cities.
More Pop Culture Beast movies – recent reviews:
*I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie and Allison Janney
*Wonder Wheel, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake
*Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson
Justin Remer makes movies, directs music videos, and plays in the bands Duck the Piano Wire and Elastic No-No Band when he is not writing movie reviews. His folk-rock documentary MAKING LOVERS & DOLLARS is currently streaming on Amazon.