Set in contemporary Germany and Greece, In the Fade, the latest film from Hamburg-born filmmaker Fatih Akin, is a chilling exploration of European neo-Nazism as seen through one woman’s insufferable bereavement.
Katja Sekerci (Diane Kruger), who is white and German, marries her Kurdish-German husband Nuri (Numan Acar) while he is in prison for drug dealing. Following his release, Nuri becomes a model of rehabilitation, setting up his own small business in Hamburg providing translation and travel services to the Turkish and Kurdish communities.
The couple have a son, Rocco (Rafael Santana), and a comfortable home on the outskirts of the city. Katja’s life, filled with love for her husband and child, but still characterised by the Bohemianism (including recreational drug use) of her youth, is, she thinks, close to perfect.
Then her life is torn apart when a bomb blast outside Nuri’s business kills both him and little Rocco. The cops begin their investigation from the assumption that it is drug-related. Katja is certain that the atrocity (an indiscriminate terrorist attack in an ethnic minority area) is the work of Nazis.
The story that follows is a brilliantly balanced combination of police procedural, courtroom drama, family drama, political quasi-documentary, thriller and Ancient Greek-style revenger’s tragedy.
The cops’ initial focus upon Nuri’s criminal past shifts the investigation away from Germany’s underground neo-Nazi groups (which have been responsible for a series of violent assaults and terrorist attacks in recent times). Not only that, it also provides grist to the mill of the lawyer defending the two Nazis who are eventually brought to trial for the attack.
The strength of the screenplay (which is co-authored by Akin and Hark Bohm) is that it does not simplify or idealise either Katja as an individual or her family life in the aftermath of the atrocity. The drugs found in her home by the cops complicate matters and play into the hands of the Nazi killers’ legal team. The relationship between Katja and Nuri’s parents is put under intolerable strain when they blame her for leaving Rocco at Nuri’s office (instead of carrying out her assumed maternal duties) and when they demand to take the remains of Nuri and Rocco for burial in Turkey.
The court scenes bring together a fine sense of drama with a sharp understanding of the connections between fascist organisations across Europe (some of which are legal, others illegal). The scene in which the father of one of the Nazis testifies against his own son (a moving performance from Ulrich Tukur) is one of the most emotionally powerful you are likely to see on screen all year.
The introduction into the story of the Greek fascist party Golden Dawn is a powerful and plausible masterstroke.
Golden Dawn, although it denies its fascism, is so clearly a Nazi organisation that it would not be allowed to stand for office in countries such as Portugal or Germany, for example. Nevertheless, the party has 18 MPs in the Athens parliament, on a vote of half-a-million (7 percent of the turnout in the 2015 general election).
Anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was murdered in 2013 by a member of Golden Dawn. Several of the party’s MPs are currently undergoing trial, accused of forming a criminal organisation in connection with the murder of Fyssas and other crimes.
The film’s connection of the unnamed, illegal German Nazi cell to Golden Dawn is breathtakingly bold and politically pertinent (and will, no doubt, enrage the scum of the Greek fascist party). The German neo-Nazis’ lawyer introduces a Golden Dawn member (a seaside hotelier) as a defence witness. The female accused could not possibly have planted the bomb on the day in question, he says, as she was staying at his hotel in Greece.
The ensuing drama, which leads Katja to Greece, is best left to be discovered through watching the movie. Suffice it to say that Greece is a suitable location, not only because of the place of Golden Dawn in the narrative, but also because Akin and Bohm’s screenplay takes a captivating and agonising turn towards the kind of tragedy one might expect of an Ancient Hellenic playwright such as Euripides or Sophocles.
Cinematically the film has the kind of intense, sometimes intimate, realist style that we find in French filmmaker Robert Guédiguian’s superb, anti-fascist film La Ville est Tranquille (The Town is Quiet). However, where Guédiguian’s movie reveals subtly the social conditions and forces that underpin the support for the French Front National, Akin’s film combines personal intimacy with the political directness of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers and Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom.
The performances are excellent across the piece. Acar plays Nuri Sekerci with an impressive vitality that reflects his energetic pursuit of his second chance at life.
The outstanding performance of the movie, however, is that of Kruger, who plays Katja with an extraordinary intensity, anguish and righteous rage. Like an anti-fascist Antigone for the modern age, her performance is the brilliant, compelling spearpoint of a genuinely harrowing and intelligently political film.