As text at the end of In the Fade indicates, filmmaker Fatih Akin wishes to expose the rise in nationalistic hate crimes in Germany, which parallels the troubling swell of racist atrocities in other European countries, as well as the U.S., over the last decade. A noble sentiment, yes, though it shackles Akin’s imagination. For well over an hour, In the Fade functions as the sort of crisp and dutiful courtroom procedural that one encounters daily on dozens of cable stations, though without the twists that enliven a routine episode of Law & Order. The film lacks the ferocity that coursed through Akin’s Head-On and—to a lesser extent—The Edge of Heaven and Soul Kitchen.
The film initially offers convincing and specific details of a domestic life. Katja (Diane Kruger) is married to a reformed Turkish drug dealer, Nuri (Numan Acar), and together they run a tax consulting firm specializing in aiding immigrants. Katja and Nuri have a precocious child, Rocco (Rafael Santana), who hangs around his father’s office and soaks up the trade. The pleasure that Akin derives from regarding the family at ease speaks of Katja and Nuri’s relief, as they’ve managed to steer themselves out of a choppy past that includes Katja’s drug use and Nuri’s stretch in prison. Rocco represents to Katja and Nuri the hope of transcendence and transformation that children signify to most parents. A gesture of intimacy haunts the remainder of the film: Katja borrows Nuri’s glasses, symbolically sharing and assuming her lover’s vision, before unknowingly bidding him farewell for the last time.
Nuri and Rocco are killed in an explosion, caused by a makeshift bomb fashioned out of nails, fertilizer, and diesel fuel—the sort of weapon favored by white supremacists who’re carrying out terrorist acts on a budget. As she was heading out to run errands, Katja remembers seeing a young woman, Edda (Hannah Hilsdorf), leaving a bicycle on the street in front of the family business. Katja correctly believes that these murders were orchestrated by neo-Nazis, while the local police would rather retrospectively re-indict Nuri for his own past crimes. In one of the film’s more distinctive flourishes, Akin’s camera pirouettes up and over Katja’s bathtub as she soaks, gradually revealing her slit wrists, as the water becomes a lurid red. At the last minute, Katja receives a phone call informing her that the killers have been caught.
Katja’s decision to not commit suicide is tonally pivotal to the film, as this is the juncture at which she becomes less a character than a symbol of the fury and impotency that white nationalists conjure in their victims. This is the intention of these crimes, after all, as terrorists wish to infect their victims with their own nihilism. Rage muddies clarity, and so suddenly we’re debating a racist purview as if it has an intellectual or humanist foundation. In the Fade correspondingly comes to life when it dramatizes the distraction tactics necessary to excusing terrorism, as the killers’ defense attorney, Haberbeck (Johannes Krisch), establishes a cruel and ridiculous correlation between Katja’s recreational drug use and the murders of her husband and son.
In the Fade is executed with precision, particularly the third act, in which the film morphs into a tense yet unconvincing revenge thriller. Appearing relieved to be out of the courtroom, Akin springs a series of tracking shots that link opposing characters in unlikely fashions. Such formalism prepares us for a ghoulish act of transference, in which terrorism is revealed to be a kind of contagion that morphs innocents into kamikazes. This assumption of malevolent and hopeless power contrasts with the loving reciprocity that’s embodied by Katja’s borrowing of Nuri’s glasses, which she wears while stalking neo-Nazis. In other words, love is shown to be perverted by hatred. These reverberations are theoretically impressive, but Akin has overlooked an irony: that he’s reduced Katja to a political automaton, ignoring her humanity.