Cannes Review: "In The Fade"

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Fatih Akin's comeback vehicle will have to wait. For a moment, the 43 year-old writer-director helming from Germany, and known for tackling topics on his Turkish roots, had amassed a few critically acclaimed hits ("The Edge of Heaven," "Head-On") but lately he's been struggling to find his voice, first making the somewhat likable, but simple-minded comedy "Soul Kitchen,"  and then back to back dramatic strikeouts with "The Cut" and "Goodbye Berlin." The Cannes competition title "In The Fade," is a mediocre revenge drama that means well, but is bogged down by conventional narrative tropes.

The film opens with a wedding. Shot in home-video style and set in a prison, Katja (Numan Acar) is marrying Nuri (Numan Acar), who is in jail for dealing drugs. Akin shoots their civil wedding with brilliant panache, the camera feels vitally alive as Nuri passes by every cell giving high fives and handshakes to inmates as he walks down the hallway of the prison to marry his bride.

Flashback a few years later and Yuri is a reformed drug-dealer, he has a stable job, working as a legal adviser to the Turkish communities in Germany, and a son, Rocco (Rafael Santana), which Katja conceived while he was in jail. Then the bombing happens and the movie changes, while Yuri and Rocco are in the office, a planned bike bomb, stationed right next to their work, explodes.

Katja begins her grieving process and is aided by her mother Annemarie (Karin Neuhauser) and Nuri’s parents Ali (Asim Demirel) and Hülya (Aysel Iscan). The the Neo-Nazis are caught and trial soon begins, one in which the best dramatic moments of the movie occur. In fact, it would have suited this film better if the courtroom drama was extended a bit before it headed down its less interesting path.

 The Nazis’ defending counsel, an arrogant, but brilliant Johannes Krisch, far outweighs the brains of Katja’s well-meaning lawyer, played by Denis Moschitto. They find loopholes, laws that render any evidence pointless and, bam, the perpetrators are free to go. 

Katja is considerably outraged when her parents tell her to move on, and her lawyer says he wants a mistrial and she will likely be back in court for a second round. She wants none of that, in fact she’d rather just take revenge herself. That is where the film starts to struggle and feels, rather, ineffective. She starts searching online for ways to make a bomb, herself starting to radicalize herself against society. 
Krueger, a great actress, does the best she can with her role. Katja is an underwritten part that she fully fleshes into moments of heartbreak, but the screenplay, by Akin and Hark Bohn, is filled with contrived clichés that we’ve seen before. There’s happy times, tragedy, grieving and revenge in “In the Fade,” but nothing that has not been seen or done before.

Making the perpetrators neo-Nazis is no coincidence, especially when you consider that Akin based the story on research into the growing number of Nazi race-hate attacks that have been happening lately to minorities in Germany. A perfectly reasoned decision to make a movie about this relevant topic, but the villains in the movie are barely fleshed out and this isn’t the story to tell for any kind of message to come across.

The villains of the film say a word here, say a word there, but there really is no side to their story. We know this was a racially-motivated attack, but would have loved to have had their characters a little more fleshed out and less caricatured. Their lack of dialogue in the screenplay has the viewer less involved and less willing to go along with Katja on her journey.

The questionable final act will no doubt have people talking, but it comes at the expense of a director that sought out to tell an important story about his country and his roots, but is instead bogged down by an overzealous mindset that leaves his own beliefs to the viewer in questionable disarray.