Out of nowhere, Katja’s life falls apart when her husband, Nuri, and young son, Rocco, are killed in a bomb attack. Her friends and family try to give her the support she needs, and Katja somehow manages to make it through the funeral. But the mind-numbing search for the perpetrators and the reasons behind the senseless killing complicate Katja’s painful mourning, opening wounds and doubts. Danilo, a lawyer and Nuri’s best friend, represents Katja in the eventual trial against the two suspects, a young Neo-Nazi couple, but the trial pushes Katja to the edge. There’s simply no alternative for her: she wants justice. Diane Kruger gives one of the best performances of the year in this stunning, provocative, and very relevant film. I sat down with writer/director Fatih Akim to talk about In the Fade, winner of the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture in a Foreign Lanuage and on the short list for the upcoming Academy Awards.
Danny Miller: I realize that racism, murder, and neo-Nazis are hardly new phenomena in our culture but there’s something about this film coming out now that seems particularly relevant. Do you find that the film seems more pointed today than it might have a year or two ago?
Fatih Akin: I don’t, actually. I was born in Germany and raised in Germany, and, to be honest, I’ve been very aware all my life of certain forces in my country, certain groups and people who wanted to kill me just because of how I look — that I have black hair and dark eyes and because my family comes from Turkey. That’s something that has mattered to me all my life but it was only recently that I felt I was in the right place to make this film. It’s true that now we have the rise of fascism all over the world, and that makes stories like this more relevant on a global scale, but for me, personally, I’ve been dealing with these issues all my life.
From my limited understanding of modern Germany, immigrants used to be much more welcomed into the country than they have been in recent times. Is that accurate at all?
I mean, my parents moved to Germany in the 1960s and I was born there in the 70s, and until I was in my twenties, I’m not sure I ever really considered myself a German. It’s not like it is — or at least used to be — in the United States that when you’re born here, you are American. Germany had a history of treating its immigrants as “guest workers” and you know how it works with a “guest” — you come around, have a coffee, and then leave again. (Laughs.)
What changed for you in your twenties?
It was when I started making films. I realized that nobody was going to “invite” me to become a German, nobody was going to give me a quiz to pass and then I’d be German. I came to realize that it was all about me whether I considered myself German or not, it doesn’t matter what any racist had to say about it.
More of an internal process and decision?
This is such an extraordinary film, and even from the first frame, I felt the tension that you built throughout. Diane Kruger gives such an amazing and raw performance, I wondered what the atmosphere on the set was like. Did the tension and emotion stop the second you said “Cut?”
No, not at all, it was never “Cut!” and then let’s laugh and have a coffee. In some films it is like that, and with some actors. But for this film, and I’m not speaking about any kind of method acting, the level of concentration Diane had was just extremely high. She was more focused than I’ve ever seen in my life with any actor.
The emotions are so intense and real, I wonder if you ever have moments as a director where you think, “Oh, God, what am I doing to these people?
Yes, a bit, especially during this film. I don’t think I’m a brutal director, I’m never yelling on set or trying to get people to think about some horrible things from their past. I’m actually the opposite of that, usually trying to protect my actors somehow, but at the same time I’m very aware of needing to step back and not disrupt their concentration. You have to find the balance. But with Diane, it was never like I was whispering in her ear about what she should be thinking about, she brought it all with her. It was a very emotional and physical performance, so it was very exhausting.
I keep thinking of that amazing scene in the courtroom where Katja lunges at one of the defendants during the murder trial. I almost felt sorry for that woman playing the Nazi because as an audience member I could so identify with Katja’s rage. Was that an especially difficult scene to shoot?
These scenes are always very difficult because you have to choreograph them and make sure they look believable, and at the same time you have to make sure the actors don’t hurt themselves. When you’re at that emotional level, it’s sometimes hard to control the physical stuff. The actors playing the neo-Nazi couple were both great stage actors. The guy appeared in a Terry Malick film that was made in Germany. It was hard for them because they had to have a lot of silent, expressionless faces, they were both craving more lines!
Did you ever consider giving them more of a back story?
No. This film is in the tradition of Luc Bresson, the French director who inspired Scorsese to make Taxi Driver. In Bresson’s films, he always sticks with one character and one perspective. I really focused this film completely on Katja and what she was going through. I didn’t think it was necessary in this case to show how the Nazis got that way.
Yeah, that’s just not what the film is about. I don’t want to give away the ending, which I thought was perfect, but did you ever get any criticism for it?
Not really, especially after Cannes. We premiered at Cannes, which can be a pretty harsh place, and people were more divided about the ending than I’ve noticed since. I think most people today understand the ending but at Cannes some critics were quite angry about it. Our screening there happened just two days after the Manchester bombing so that may have played a role.
It’s such a catharsis at the end.
For the character and for the audience, in my opinion.
All of the actors were fantastic, but I was really impressed by the people playing the parents, both Nuri’s parents and Katja’s mother. Their actions and dialogue revealed so much.
I was always asking myself how things would happen in reality. I came from that Turkish community and I know what people in that community are like and how hard it is for them to let certain things go. I also know the prejudices white parents can have when their daughter goes out with a Turkish guy. I’ve experienced it all. So I kept asking myself, okay, what would happen next? The woman who played Katja’s mother was also a stage actor from Hamburg who appeared in that Terence Malick film I mentioned. I didn’t know it when I cast her, but I guess if they’re good enough for Malick, they’re good enough for me! (Laughs.)
I was very excited to hear Diane Kruger talk about another project you two are working on together about Marlene Dietrich.
Yes, I really hope that’s going to happen. It will be about her experiences helping the resistance during the war and will be trilingual: German, French, and English.
Oh God, I can’t wait. I think Diane Kruger is the only person alive who could play Marlene Dietrich!
I know, she’ll be perfect.