One truth emerges from In the Fade: Germans still tolerate smoking. Katja Sekerci, played by Diane Kruger, is rarely seen without a smoldering fag — in her home, in bars, in an automobile (many Berlin bars still get around national bans, according to reports). When a bomb kills her husband and young son, Katja stumbles through the stages of grief before determining to prosecute the neo-Nazis allegedly responsible. Kruger, who won the Best Actress prize at Cannes last year, holds In the Fade together by sheer force of star power; nothing else matches her concentration, including director Fatih Akin’s script. What begins as a precise depiction of mourning turns into a predictable courtroom drama and an absurd revenge fantasy in its last two acts.
Complicating matters is that her late husband, a Turk named Nuri (Numan Acar), served a prison term for selling drugs, a development that Akin presents to the audience in the first scene, a flashback. Nevertheless, he starts a legit business, and it’s plain that he, Katja, and their son register something like genuine family warmth. After the bombing, Katja take to alcohol and coke to numb herself; the most powerful scenes in In the Fade consist of Katja enduring Nuri’s parents, who, free of any excuse for civility, condescend to her. A patient detective withdraws his kindness inch by inch on realizing that Katja’s using drugs and on learning about Nuri’s background.
For about forty-five minutes, In the Fade is a taut, tough film. Kruger cedes not an inch of likability. Akin, who directed Head-On and The Edge of Heaven, glances at the suspicion with which Germans view Turks, forty years after Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats His Soul; the election of xenophobes to parliaments and other positions of political power has if anything exacerbated the danger. Then, with the help of a lawyer friend (Denis Moschitto), Katja takes the neo-Nazis to court, where the usual fireworks ensue and the tension quietly leaks out of In the Fade; the confrontations between Katja and the defendants’ attorney (played by Johannes Krisch as if twirling a long Mustache of Evil) are especially rote.
The last third of the picture, in which Katja’s righteous hunger for revenge lead her to make a couple of, ah, interesting choices, regains its footing — Akin is good at deepening a sense of inevitability — but the developments are too neat. Unearned tragedy is difficult to separate from a sense of inevitability.