I don’t know what it’s like when you sit down and decide to make a movie. Since Fatih Akin both directed and co-wrote the story, I like to imagine he sat down with his co-author Hark Bohm and they hashed out the different types of stories that come out of the loss of a loved one. For instance, you can do a study of grief, with lots of crying and David Fincher approved blue toned rain scenes. Or you could do a nail-biting-edge-of-your-seat courtroom drama, with its inspirational monologues and greasy looking lawyers. Or, you could go full on bonkers revenge flick, with all of the frenzied planning and gut punch action your heart desires. Of course, there are many more kinds of movies you can make that spring from loss, but I’d say this is a solid summary of some of the most popular options. What’s fun about In the Fade is that Akin chose all three. This is also what’s weird and, ultimately, off-putting about the film.
Akin’s study in genre blurring kicks off with Katja Sekerci (Diane Kruger). She’s a young mother living in Germany with her son Rocco and her husband Nuri. After dropping Rocco of at Nuri’s office so she can spend some time with her heavily pregnant sister, the worst possible thing happens and both father and son are killed by a nail bomb placed outside his business. Katja is wracked with grief, but is able to remember some key details about what she saw before she left her husband’s office that day. With her help, the German police are able to narrow down their suspicions to a young Nazi couple who they believe targeted her husband because he was Kurdish and worked with other Kurds.
Akin goes for the classic three act structure in his story, punctuating each shift with a title card. The first (titled “The Family”), is a crash course on grief. Katja is pushed and pulled by forces outside of her control (the police, her family) and turns to drugs as a way to cope with her loss. When she’s not crying, she’s smoking a cigarette; when she’s not smoking a cigarette, she’s doing coke or smoking opium. This section of the movie is soaked in blues. Every scene is dreary and cold but more than that it feels voyeuristic. Akin dives into the shaky intimacy brought on by handheld cameras when Katja is dealing with her family problems, then switches it up in the next shot and give us a glossy and heavily produced scene of Katja looking bad ass and walking in the rain. It’s fairly jarring and almost feels performative. That’s not to criticize Diane Kruger, who really carries this movie and does a fantastic job navigating the tonal shifts of this film, it’s an example of how jarring Akin’s genre switching can be.
The second act (“Justice”) is a fairly straightforward courtroom drama, a scratch you could easily sate with a few viewings of 48 Hours Mystery, but the third act (“The Sea”) holds far more interest. While it starts out with Katja being driven by a classic need for revenge, Akin finally shifts into a comfortable gear. The movie no longer feels like a series of reactionary scenes, instead we get some contemplative stuff and some truly beautiful cinematography. As Katja muses on her life thus far and whether or not she should go forward with her plans, Akin uses the breathtaking greenery and openness of the Greek countryside to highlight her isolation. It’s one of the few times in the movie where every shot feels purposeful. This actualized part of the movie is a joy to watch, but as soon as it starts, it’s basically over.
One of the other stranger, or at least more surprising, aspects of the movie is its total lack of politics. Katja essentially assumes her husband’s attackers are Nazis, she turns out to be right and that’s basically the end of it. While there are some courtroom scenes that involve the killers deep Nazi connections, there’s absolutely no exploration as to why they would target Katja’s husband besides the fact that he’s Kurdish. There’s really no mention of Germany’s current sociopolitical climate, and no exploration into the radicalization of the Nazi couple. They could have murdered Nuri for any reason and it wouldn’t have changed the movie whatsoever.
In the Fade is certainly an exercise in tonal whiplash. There are times when Akin really seems to be pulling off this three act experiment, but at the end of the day the film falls flat from what it could have been. It’s almost as if jamming a bunch of meaningless genre exercises into your film isn’t such a good idea after all.