Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Submitted by Germany: In the Fade

There is no need to beat yourself up if you do not recognize the Queens of the Stone Age song Fatih Akin’s latest film takes its title from, but it is exactly the sort of dark, hard-rocking tune a hot mess like Katja Sekerci would listen to. She married her college dealer while he was still incarcerated. Yet, they both got clean and went straight, becoming stable parents for their studious little boy. It is a story that should have a happy ending, but instead an act of domestic terrorism will leave her grief-stricken and starved for vengeance and closure in Akin’s In the Fade (trailer here), Germany’s shortlisted official foreign language Oscar submission, which opens today in New York.

Through some economical editing, we are sufficiently invested in the Sekerci family when a pipe bomb rips through the Sekerci travel agency and translation service, killing her husband Nuri and young son Rocco. Being lazy civil servants, the cops just want to chalk it up to a former drug connection. However, her description of a rather Aryan-looking woman who left a shiny new bike unattended in front of their store-front eventually leads to the arrest of André and Edda Möller, two suspected members of the very real National Socialist Underground (that is indeed how they choose to self-identify).

A prosecution is soon brought against the Möllers, but Sekerci quickly finds she and her late husband are the ones on trial. Unfortunately, her recent backsliding drug use, brought on by extreme stress, plays right into the hands of the Mephistophelean defense attorney. Even the devastating testimony of Möller’s horrified father Jürgen cannot prevent Sekerci’s shaming and scapegoating. However, much of the information that comes out during the trial will prove useful in a private campaign for vengeance.

The first two acts of Fade are tight, tense, and downright devastating. Although Akin and Hark Bohm’s screenplay is mostly about violence motivated by bigotry, it also offers some insight into the pressures faced by recovering addicts. Unfortunately, the third act gets a bit wishy-washy, perhaps because of worries the film might get tagged with the Death Wish-style revenge thriller label. Yet, the original Bronson Death Wish is far more nuanced than most people realize (granted, the subsequent sequels, not so much).

Nevertheless, Diane Kruger’s harrowingly performance is the engine that will probably drive Germany to another best foreign language Academy Award. Her emotional wounds are so palpably realistic, it is hard to watch her go to such dark places. She could even be a player for best actress, unless the Academy wants to reward Meryl Streep for speaking out against her old colleague Harvey Weinstein after the extent of his horrid deviancy was already fully revealed.

Most of the rest of the cast are mainly cardboard villains who exist to drive sympathy for Sekerci or blandly shallow friends who are there just for the sake of losing patience with her. The exception is the great Ulrich Tukur (John Rabe, The Lives of Others), who will quietly but surely stagger viewers in his pivotal scenes as the decent Jürgen Möller.

Josh Homme (of the aforementioned Queens) penned an aptly heavy and jangling score, while cinematographer Rainer Klausman gives it all a stylishly ominous look. The only drawback comes when Akin realizes how thoroughly he stacked the deck and starts to add unwanted hand-wringing. His critical champions are calling this a return to form, but it actually fits better with his bizarrely under-valued Armenian genocide film, The Cut, then his character-driven indies, like the utterly unsoulful Soul Kitchen. Worth seeing for Kruger’s brave performance and as a wake-up call regarding the violent activities of the National Socialist Underground, In the Fade opens today (12/27) in New York, at the IFC Center and the Landmark 57.