In the Fade, German director Fatih Akin’s new drama about tragedy, xenophobia, and weaponized grief, is split into three parts. First is “Family,” focusing on Katja (Diane Kruger), her Turkish immigrant husband Nuri (Numan Acar), and their adorable son Rocco (Rafael Santana). They live in a sleek, comfortable home and operate their own business in Hamburg, but their domestic bliss is annihilated when a targeted nail bomb kills Nuri and Rocco.
When she’s called in for questioning, Katja suspects it’s the work of neo-Nazis—she saw another German woman leave her bike unlocked outside Nuri’s office on the day of the attack. But investigators ignore her and speculate, based on Nuri’s Kurdish roots and drug-dealing past, that he had a connection to the Turkish mafia.
One of Akin’s greatest accomplishments with In the Fade is how he forces viewers to bear witness to Katja’s raw, inescapable pain. Few things are more brutal than watching a mother shop for a tiny casket, sob in her dead son’s bunk bed, or stare at someone else’s baby with bitter longing. It’s almost too much, but you have to watch, even as Katja turns to hard drugs and nearly gives in to hopelessness.
In “Justice,” Katja’s heartbreak sharpens into rage. This segment is a courtroom procedural that’s too prescriptive, with cookie-cutter villains and a seemingly ludicrous outcome. But Kruger carries the film through its lowest point—Katja seethes as she sits across from the couple who murdered her family and remains stoic as her ability to perceive reality is publicly questioned.
Things start to spin out of control in the film’s final chapter, “The Sea.” It’s here that In the Fade morphs from legal drama to tooth-grinding international thriller, and Katja moves from bereaved widow to hell-bent avenger. It’s exciting, but jarring, and the jerky genre shifts aren’t as graceful as Akin had likely hoped. Katja’s actions are unpredictable, and up until the film’s final seconds, it’s unclear whether she’ll choose mercy or revenge.
Throughout the film, Akin—himself of Turkish heritage—masterfully depicts the nationalism and racism of modern-day Germany and its historical ties to the Third Reich. The first two parts of In the Fade were inspired by a 2013 trial in Munich against neo-Nazi terrorists who murdered several people of Turkish and Greek descent—a trial that is still ongoing, more than a decade since the killings took place, with a verdict due sometime this year.
Even though Katja’s foray into vigilante justice feels fantastical (and a little reminiscent of Kill Bill), the underlying narrative is grounded in reality: Nazis still exist, and they’re still killing innocent people in the name of white supremacy. Although Kruger is fierce and magnetic as Katja, it’s interesting to consider how the story might’ve been different if Nuri’s wife were also of Turkish descent rather than a native German.
In the Fade has already won the 2018 Golden Globe for best foreign language film, and it’s nominated for the same accolade at the upcoming Academy Awards. The praise is well deserved; it’s a gripping, relevant film about coping with tragedy, the pitch-black void it creates, and the desire to seek revenge in its wake. Plus, the visuals are magnificent—especially shots of shadows cast on rainy nights, the sapphire waters of the Greek coastline, and blood dissolving in bathwater—as is its score, which was written by Queens of the Stone Age frontman and certified douchebag Josh Homme (the English title is one of the band’s songs).
The film’s conclusion is mystifying, though—it’s unclear if there’s any intended moral to the story, or if the ending is simply meant to make us wonder what we’d do in Katja’s position. Either way, In the Fade will continue gnawing at you long after it’s over.