Movie Review: Germany’s Best Foreign Language Oscar contender, “In the Fade”

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If it weren’t for the subtitles, you might be fooled into waiting for the usual Hollywood twists and turns tailored for an American audience.

But “In the Fade” is German, a terrorist thriller, courtroom drama and soul-searching plunge into grief, and Germany’s selection for contention in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race.

Hollywood twists and Hollywood endings don’t figure into it.

Diane Kruger, the German actress whose best work is often far way from Hollywood (She was Helen in “Troy”) is Katja, a woman we meet on her wedding day.

She’s got her share of tattoos and piercings. More than her share. And the fellow she’s marrying? He’s in prison. But love finds a way.

And Katja and Nuri (Numan Acar) build a life, after his sentence. A Turkish Kurd, he’s a professional translator in a country with a lot of Turkish ex-pats. And she raises their beautiful little boy.

Until that fateful day when a bomb goes off at Nuri’s office. Their son was there with him. And Katja’s cries notwithstanding, the police warn her away. “They’re no longer people,” they assure her (in German, with English subtitles). Just “body parts.”

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The shock of this loss is quickly shoved aside, ever-so-politely, to make way for the investigation. She is stunned at how quickly her husband and their lives together become suspect.

“Was he Muslim? Was he ‘politically active?'”

Nein and NEIN, Katja insists. He wasn’t dealing drugs again, either. “Nazis” did this. And eventually, the cops agree.

The film’s second act is the trial of the young Aryans accused of committing the crime, a showcase for the differences between German justice and American (the victim and her attorney sit with the prosecution, and participate, for starters).

And the third act is about the aftermath of that trial, Katja’s struggle between grief and rage, all to try and fill the vast empty spot the murderers — called terrorists everywhere but perhaps in the current White House — left in her heart.

Denis Moschitto, as a sympathetic but steely attorney, and the scary Johannes Krisch (as counsel for the Nazis) impress. But it’s Kruger’s picture, riveting as a character drowning in despair — sometimes, literally. She slashes her wrists at one awful moment and the where she might slip beneath the water turns crimson with her blood. Kruger gives Katja moments of fury, but many more of deflated despair.

Director/co-writer Fatih Akin, who did the German culinary comedy “Soul Food,” treats the material in the most straightforward manner imaginable. He doesn’t let technique get in the way of the rising rage of losing someone, only to be put on the defensive by police willing to leap to prejudiced conclusions. Still, the picture plays as a bit dull and frustrating, at times. It could have used more pizzazz, a few bigger twists.

The surprises come in the investigation, in court and in that aftermath, where “Hollywood” twists present themselves as possibilities, but are never submitted to.

Like life after a murder, there is no “happy” ending, no thrilling feeling of justice served. “In the Fade” is that rare thriller which finds more to mull over in the culture clash — within Germany, within the Turkish expatriate community, and between German justice and American expectations, between German storytelling and Hollywood endings.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, profanity

Cast: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Numan Acar, Samia Muriel Chancrin, Johannes Krisch

Credits:Directed by Fatih Akin, script by Fatih Akin and Hark Bohm. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:45

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