Few filmmakers have tackled terrorism with anything beyond a standard procedural account. However, writer/director Fatih Akin (German-born and of Turkish descent) has regularly grappled with the topic with thorny, probing dramas such as "Head-On" and "The Edge of Heaven."
Like Akin's best films, "In the Fade" is muscularly lean and emotionally raw. At turns a tragedy, a courtroom drama and a revenge thriller, his latest is a shape-shifting quest through a terrorist tragedy, as outraged as it is compassionate.
Diane Kruger, a native German actress in her first German film, plays Katja Sekerci. She lives in Hamburg with her Turkish husband Nuri (Numan Acar) and their 5-year-old son Rocco (Rafael Santana). In the movie's opening preamble, Nuri, clad in a white suit, is walked from his prison cell directly into his wedding with Katja. The first notes of "My Girl" radiate while Nuri strides down a corridor of cheering male inmates.
This is the kind of incongruity Akin delights in. It's also just the first inversion of "In the Fade."
The film flashes forward to their happy family life five years later. When Katja returns to Nuri's office one evening, she encounters a road blocked by police. Her initial horror is soon confirmed — both Nuri and Rocco have been killed by a nail bomb exploded just outside his tax office, their bodies obliterated.
Katja descends into a nightmare of grief and disorientation. She leads investigators through the rain to her home to give them her husband and son's toothbrushes to identify their DNA. The police, while sympathetic, are immediately suspicious of Nuri's background. Was he religious? Was he politically active? Was he dealing drugs again?
But Katja remembers a fleeting encounter when she left her husband's office where a woman left an unchained bicycle outside the office. She was, as Katja says, white and blonde, "as German as me." Only once investigators have looked into dormant criminal connections and nonexistent Turkish mafia ties do they realize Katja was correct. The bombing was the work of neo-Nazis, a pair of whom were simply targeting a Turkish area of town.
Akin was inspired to make "In the Fade" (the title of which comes from a Queens of the Stone Age song; the band's Josh Homme composed the score) after a rash of neo-Nazi terrorist attacks in Germany, where a flood of refugees from Syria raised anti-immigration tensions.
But "In the Fade" resonates on other shores, including here in the United States, where neo-Nazism is present and the ethnicity of a perpetrator sometimes seems to determine which mass killings get labeled terrorism.
In this movie, the face of terrorism is blonde and blue-eyed.
Told in three distinct chapters, the film is alternatively wrenching, gripping and a little perplexing. The middle chapter, the courtroom drama, is expertly done, and aided by fine attorney performances by Denis Moschitto and Johannes Krisch. But the second act's clear lines of good and evil are blurred in the final chapter, which moves to Greece where Akin's film fights a growing sense of despair with the glimmer of a greater empathy.
Kruger, who won Best Actress at last year's Cannes Film Festival for her performance here, holds the film together. Hers is a story of grief, fury and regret. She's a remarkably original protagonist — a chain-smoking, tattooed mother who, in her trauma, is always a breath away from drowning.
'In the Fade'
STARRING: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Numan Acar, Johannes Krisch and Ulrich Brandhoff
DIRECTOR: Fatih Akin
NOW SHOWING: 7 p.m. Saturday at Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge. $9.50. Screening features a quick film school crash course by LSU Film and Media Arts. manshiptheatre.org.
RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 46 mins.
MPAA RATING: R (Restricted) Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED R? For some disturbing images, drug use, and language including sexual references.
Excellent (****), Good (***), Fair (**), Poor (*)