Don’t ever say that about my husband.
Writer/director Fatih Akin makes sure we get a sense of the potentially volatile world he’s created (with co-writer Hark Bohm) from the first frame of Aus dem Nichts [In the Fade]. It starts with a handheld video recording of a wedding wherein the groom (Numan Acar‘s Nuri Sekerci) is receiving applause and hugs from friends and family—or so it seems. As he continues to move forward his surroundings take shape. Suddenly we see jail cell bars as the walkway culminates onto a room empty of anyone except a priest, two witnesses, and the bride (Diane Kruger‘s Katja). They’re as happy as can be, their rings tattooed to their fingers. It’s a pure depiction of unbridled love between a German woman and her incarcerated Turkish beau.
You can’t help counting the myriad “issues” involved whether the assumed Christian/Muslim pairing, the prison setting ensuring a criminal background, her numerous tattoos, or the obvious lack of parents. Akin wants you to think all these things because he knows you will. He knows we’ve become accustomed to the knee-jerk reaction of pointing fingers at the non-white elements and the visual markers of innocence lost. We’re to anticipate tragedy under the pretense that they deserve it. Just watch their interactions a few years later. Katja is swearing like a sailor, her young son Rocco (Rafael Santana) following suit. Nuri sits at a desk with two heavy-set toadies in the back and asks his wife to “do the books” when she’s done running errands. We project our bigoted opinions.
So when the bomb goes off and Nuri and Rocco are left dead, our minds move parallel with the police. Was it religiously motivated? Politically? Criminally? What was Nuri mixed up in and who were his enemies? Family members have judged him already too, everyone but his wife. But is she blind to the truth? Did he lie when he said he gave that life up after Rocco’s birth? Katja wouldn’t be human if she didn’t confirm that he truly was reformed through his best friend/lawyer Danilo Fava (Denis Moschitto). But it is true. That life was behind them. So why would a bomb explode that only killed two ethnic-Turkish, German citizens? The only logical answer is one that we in America can no longer scoff at: Nazis.
Yes, followers of Hitler are still around and their numbers and warped ideas about ethnic cleansing reach further than anyone cares to believe. We’ve only begun receiving a brazen taste of it since Trump ascended to the Presidency and in turn provided them the confidence to exit the shadows of chat-rooms and message boards. We’ve only begun recognizing the rampant racism that goes beyond the systemic variety we’ve known to yet be eradicated. But Europe is hardly a stranger. The easy reaction to terrorist attacks in France has always been to label Islamic jihadists as the devil because looking beyond that one-sided argument onto the insidious bile so many white Europeans have for “foreigners” reveals complicity. Neo-Nazis exist and society too often ignores them because they “look harmless.”
We dismiss the greatest terrorist threat to our country as being lone white gunmen because it scares us to believe it. We ignore what they do, chalk it up to mental illness, and forget them as though each was isolated from the rest. But this is a delusion. Not only aren’t they isolated—they’re a driving force towards the growing hatred of America and Europe by their victims. Groups like ISIS don’t just pop up for no reason. The Palestinians and Israelis don’t hate each other from their first breath. These vicious conflicts arise out of nurture. They’re taught and ingrained into the fabric of cultures. Nazism is here simply because it never left. Extremists feed off their extremist enemies until the conflict becomes a self-fulfilling feedback loop.
Two wrongs still don’t make a right, but they compound into four wrongs, eight, sixteen, etc. This hate is powerful enough to infiltrate those who epitomized peace. And when a justice system fails to put Nazis behind bars, those they target must mobilize to do it themselves. Will they have the strength (read nihilistic futility) to act upon it? Well, that’s the million-dollar question Akin asks through Katja. He makes certain that those around her will rile her to the edge of decency. He has her family second-guess her love, the police disbelieve her, and the defense attorney (Johannes Krisch‘s Haberbeck) for her husband and son’s accused killers (Ulrich Brandhoff and Hanna Hilsdorf‘s André and Edda Möller) pour salt in the wound with hypotheticals. He ignites her rage.
In the Fade therefore becomes a powder keg of anticipation. We move from a fact-finding mission for the audience’s benefit as far as understanding Nuri to a trial with evidence that should lead to an open/shut case. Will it, though? Will Katja have the patience to find out? And if it doesn’t, what’s she willing to do for her pound of flesh? It’s tough to watch a film like this because you want to believe in a utopic vision of justice, to hold onto the hope that the guilty will be punished and the innocent will go free despite acknowledging how reality refuses to let such naiveté fly. Instead we must wonder if vigilantism is necessary. We must recognize that bloody revolution might be needed to evolve upwards.
This leaves us with a complex, empathetic, and infuriated character whose back is against a wall separating self-preservation from retribution. It’s no mistake that Kruger won Best Actress at Cannes because her Katja is a force. She runs the gamut of emotions from pure joy at the start to absolute desperation and despair morphing into a cold, calculating malice. There’s a reason she was cast instead of an Arab actor too. Like with so many issues we face, comprehension and/or compassion proves nonexistent until we’re faced with an example for which we can relate. Making Katja a Turk would only reinforce an “us versus them” mentality. This is instead “good versus evil.” And as such we need a white German to see that evil within other white Germans.
There aren’t any surprises once the trial begins, but that’s kind of the point. Akin’s message arrives in the subversion of Nuri being an innocent despite signs that so many equate with guilt. Once the players are positioned on the board, the moves become more or less assured. This doesn’t mean everything afterwards is boring, though. On the contrary, watching Kruger’s constant metamorphosing provides a level of suspense that never quits until the final frame. By the end we’re as torn as her Katja about what should happen. Is it more beneficial in the long run to stop a cycle of violence or ensure every attack is met with equal force? For those affected by tragedy, there’s no easy answer. Right and wrong conflate as impulse takes over.
 Diane Kruger in IN THE FADE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
 Diane Kruger, Numan Acar, Denis Moschitto and Samia Chancrin in IN THE FADE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
 Diane Kruger and Rafael Santana in IN THE FADE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.