Before I get started, let me preface by saying that I won’t always do what I’m about to do, which is review a movie after it wins an award. For one thing, I want to be as current as I can possibly be with my reviews, and strictly speaking, In the Fade counts as a 2017 movie. Secondly, I will have separate coverage of the Oscars after the nominations come out, with focus on the individual categories. Third, this blog is about making recommendations about what you should or shouldn’t spend your hard-earned money to see, which is a premise somewhat defeated by Awards Season. No matter how terrible a movie might be, on principle I would suggest seeing it if it gets major awards consideration, if nothing else than to judge the individual areas where it’s being recognized. For example, most people agree that Suicide Squad sucked, but it won the Oscar for Makeup and Hairstyling last year. And despite the myriad flaws of the movie, the makeup was pretty good. I disagree with it winning (my vote, if I actually had one, was for Star Trek Beyond, because they created a Venus Fly Trap head for God’s sake!), but I get why it was nominated and why Academy voters would have gone for it.
So yeah, normally I’ll leave late year prestige films in their respective year, rating what I can as I see it and leaving the rest for the Oscar coverage. But since this is the first official review for this site (note this in the logs for the inevitable trivia questions when this makes me super rich and famous – not!), I wanted to at least do a film that would probably be worth seeing, as opposed to the usual studio dumps we get in January/February.
Submitted by Germany (and including some English and Greek), In the Fade won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film this past Sunday. I have not seen any of the other nominees, save The Square, but I can definitely understand why the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would vote for it. Quite simply, the film is a giant middle finger to Nazis.
Diane Kruger gives the best performance of her career (one for which she earned the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival last year) as Katja, a grieving mother seeking justice for the murder of her husband and son in a bombing attack. This is her first full German-language role (though she employed some of her multilingual skills in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds), and she’s just as natural in her native tongue as she is in her more high profile English roles.
In fact, more than any foreign film I’ve seen in recent years, this film feels like a major studio release, and not just because it was distributed by the German division of Warner Bros. You have a bona fide star in the lead role, cinematic choices that evoke legendary filmmakers of the Hollywood system, and an instrumental score written and performed by Queens of the Stone Age (the film’s title is also a QOTSA reference).
Each of the film’s three acts is prefaced by home videos of Katja, her Turkish husband Nuri, and their son, Rocco. They each also get their own somewhat ironic title. The first, “The Family,” begins with Katja dropping Rocco off at Nuri’s office and heading to a spa with her pregnant sister before the attack. The obvious image we as an audience are supposed to maintain is that we’ll be getting a portrait of a happy family, especially as this section’s home movie is literally Katja and Nuri’s wedding while Nuri is incarcerated. Instead the happiness is all too brief, deflated by the nail bomb which sets the film’s events into motion, and instead the “family” we are treated to is Katja’s parents and in-laws, who take turns blaming her for what happened (her in-laws for leaving Rocco at Nuri’s office, her own parents for marrying a Turkish convict in the first place, even though the brief glimpses we see of Nuri are proof that rehabilitation works, as he’s an upstanding small businessman after prison).
Despite initial investigations into Muslims and mafia members, two neo-Nazis are arrested as the suspects, which leads into Act II: Justice. In a cold, sterile, Kubrick-esque courtroom, the trial plays out, with opposing council and even the five judges (there’s no jury) seemingly doing everything they can to excuse the murder of an innocent man and his child simply because he was foreign and brown, while the Nazi perpetrators sit there with the most smug looks possible, never once fearing for their own freedom. When a Nazi sympathizer is brought in as an alibi witness with clearly manufactured “evidence,” it’s treated as reasonable doubt, rather than a farce.
The third act, “The Sea,” presents its own small irony, in that the ocean as a literary device tends to symbolize peace and tranquility, and it’s here that Katja goes to her greatest extremes, taking it upon herself to avenge her loss. In lesser hands than Kruger and director Fatih Akin’s, this could devolve into late era Liam Neeson shenanigans, but the focus is kept squarely on Katja and her pain, the hatred that led to her tragedy never even given the briefest of deference.
Is this the greatest revenge story ever told? Quite frankly, no. Some of the plot threads originate from almost nowhere, like the theory that Nazis were responsible in the first place. Katja herself notes that Nuri had no enemies, and while he worked in an ethnic part of Hamburg, neither he, nor the area, had ever been targeted. Yet midway through Act I she just decides it was Nazis and she happens to be right. Similarly, I didn’t care for the ending all that much (don’t worry, I won’t spoil). The more I thought about it, the more it made sense from a character standpoint, as Katja had moments that could logically lead to the film’s conclusion, but at the same time, much of the presentation was a slow burn, focusing keenly on emotional development and prolonging each moment. The ending, such as it is, is the exact opposite, a sudden, instant piece of action, putting a full stop on everything that preceded it. It works, but it just didn’t sit right with me.
But at the same time, we have to consider the world we live in right now. Hatred has been empowered. Nazis and their sympathizers walk the streets with impunity and occupy the halls of power not just in our country, but in pockets all over Europe. Hell, Nazis literally murdered someone on our soil last year, and the official government response was to blame “both sides” and say that even Nazis have “really good people” in their ranks.
So a film like In the Fade is its own form of catharsis. We see in no uncertain terms what evil truly is, and how the lies they tell themselves and the world are just that, lies. And in a quest for vengeance and justice, we see the lengths someone will go to – especially in Germany, which has gone above and beyond the last 70 years to excise this societal cancer – to wipe those smug looks of imagined superiority off their Aryan faces. It doesn’t hurt to have that major studio polish attached to it, either.