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The Vigilant Thriller 'In The Fade' Melds Tragedy With Nihilism


This is FRESH AIR. The surprise winner in the Best Foreign Language category of this year's Golden Globe Awards was Germany's entry "In The Fade." Diane Kruger plays a German woman whose Turkish husband and young son are killed in a bomb attack. The film opened in late December in New York and LA and goes into wider release this month. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: Diane Kruger is in nearly every shot of "In The Fade," and her wide, open face with its hollow eyes says more in silence than other actors in lengthy speeches. What she conveys most deeply is a mixture of anguish and bafflement. Kruger plays a German woman named Katja who loses everything in an instant. Her Turkish husband Nuri and little boy are killed in a terrorist blast.

We'd seen their wedding in the movie's prologue in a prison, when Nuri, serving time for drug dealing, leaves his fellow prisoners with whoops and back slaps and saunters to a makeshift reception area and a joyous bride. Only a few years later, he has a successful, legitimate business and an adorably bespectacled child who sits in his dad's office, reading a book explaining the concept of empathy, which he pronounces empa-tee (ph). No doubt the irony is purposeful. A few minutes later, empathy is vaporized.

The writer-director of "In The Fade" is Fatih Akin. He was born in Germany in 1973 to Turkish parents. And on the evidence of his harsh and moody films, he remains a divided soul raised in one country but with firm roots in the culture of another. His themes are dislocation and disharmony. In his punk romance "Head-On," a German man and Turkish woman meet cute - well, kind of cute. They're both in a German hospital after respective suicide attempts. But they can't manage to live together without violence.

His tragic drama "The Edge Of Heaven" features a scene in which the coffin of a Turkish woman murdered in Germany is unloaded from a plane in Turkey and another in which a German woman murdered in Turkey is unloaded from a plane in Germany. Rarely is despair so symmetrical. In this movie, "In The Fade," the suspects in the bombing that killed Katja's husband and son include the Turkish mafia, the Kurds and those familiar Western European scapegoats the Albanians. But Katja suspects it was none of them, that it was neo-Nazis striking willy-nilly at interracial couples. In the movie's middle section, she glowers across a courtroom at the accused murderers, a husband and wife, and is unable to comprehend their clear, untroubled faces or the sneering persistence of their defense attorney to raise doubts about a case that seems open and shut.

Later, Katja smokes a cigarette outside the courthouse across from the principal suspect's father, who is actually the one who alerted the police when he found fertilizer and bomb ingredients in his son's garage. Kruger's face conveys anger, pity, distrust and gratitude, all of which resolve themselves into hopelessness. Katja has no words. The title "In The Fade" comes from a song by the rock band Queens of the Stone Age. Disappearing in the fade is how a departing lover describes himself. The band's leader, Josh Homme, also wrote the movie's score, which in the climax, features a sort of screechy clang that gave me shivers. It comes when Katja is alone in another country in search of answers and when "In The Fade" becomes, broadly speaking, a vigilante movie and a gripping one.

This is Fatih Akin's most cathartic film. But even with its crisp storytelling and momentous lead performance, it's a little disappointing. The outcome of the trial is the stuff of dumb melodrama. The villains are one-note. Akin has always had a tragic bent, but this is the first time in a movie that his sense of helplessness borders on nihilism, the kind that views taking the law into one's own hands as the only viable way. But at least this is not the kind of vigilante movie where you're meant to pump your fist in the air and say, yes. It's the kind that leaves you sick and disgusted and wanting to live in a better world - one that doesn't need vigilante movies.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. On tomorrow's show...


CLAIRE FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) I realize that this marriage has turned out to be something quite different to what we both imagined.

MATT SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Understatement.

DAVIES: On the Netflix series "The Crown," now in Season 2, a young Queen Elizabeth and her husband Philip adjust to a new life, lived in the public eye yet bound by the constraints and traditions of the British monarchy. We'll speak with series creator Peter Morgan. He also wrote "The Queen" and "Frost/Nixon." Hope you can join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.


Corrected: January 22, 2018 at 10:00 PM MST
A previous headline and Web introduction to this story incorrectly referred to the movie In the Fade as Into the Fade.
David Edelstein is a film critic for New York magazine and for NPR's Fresh Air, and an occasional commentator on film for CBS Sunday Morning. He has also written film criticism for the Village Voice, The New York Post, and Rolling Stone, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section.