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‘In the Fade’ star Diane Kruger on her real-life agony

It is the most intense, critically-acclaimed role of her career, but Diane Kruger hardly had to act at all to play a grief-stricken woman robbed of her family in a bombing.

'In the Fade' star Diane Kruger on her real-life agony
Actress Diane Kruger in Cannes earlier this year. Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

Kruger was filming “In the Fade” — Fatih Akin's German thriller about a woman who seeks revenge on the neo-Nazis who killed her husband and son — when she was told her stepfather had died.

Wolfgang Bieneck — her mother's longtime partner since Kruger's parents divorced when she was a teenager — had been a crucial part of her life, often pictured with her on the red carpet. She channeled her grief into the role.

“I felt like I was drowning in sorrow and grief. It just felt like there was no way out, ever,” the German-born 41-year-old, best known for blockbusters such as “Troy” and “Inglourious Basterds,” told AFP.

“In the Fade” was filmed chronologically, allowing Kruger to tap into her character's fluctuating state of mind, and her own fraught emotions were heightened by visiting grieving relatives of real-life murder victims.

“I never felt like that tension, those feelings, like I could push them aside at night, or on weekends,” Kruger told said in an interview at the plush Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills.

Kruger's work as the tattooed, drug-taking Katja has earned her critical acclaim and the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

On Monday, the movie was nominated for best foreign language film at the Golden Globes, and three days later it was named among nine overseas films advancing to the next round of voting in the Oscars.

 'Dream director'

Kruger was on the Cannes jury in 2012 when she met Akin, an acclaimed German-Turkish auteur known for hits such as “Head On” and “Edge of Heaven,” at a beach party.

“He was definitely my dream director, I'd seen all of his movies. I went up to him and said, 'If you ever have anything, please remember me.' It took five years but he did,” she said.

Kruger moved to Hamburg a few months before shooting, contributing to the casting process and meeting two dozen people who had lost a loved one, mostly families of murder victims, in special workshops.

“It was an experience that I didn't quite understand when I first started going there — how much it would affect me and my personal life,” she recalled.

“As the months went by — I think I went for about six months leading up to shooting — it's even hard to describe the horror, desperation, loss, anger, the rage that people feel.”

Kruger says she would feel intrusive at first probing grieving relatives for details about their experiences, but soon learned she needed simply to “sit there and listen and just observe, and allow myself to feel.”

Kruger, born Diane Heidkrueger in what was then West Germany, left home as a teenager for Paris, quickly landing catwalk jobs for Marc Jacobs and Dolce and Gabbana and print ad campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel.

Hollywood beckoned, and she got her break as Helen in Wolfgang Petersen's 2004 swords-and-sandals epic “Troy” co-starring with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom.

'Intimacy'

Kruger went on to star as a German actress turned Allied spy in Quentin Tarantino's “Inglourious Basterds,” winning plaudits for her channeling of Marlene Dietrich for the role.

Her diverse resume includes roles in time-travel adventure “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” and as the wife of a South African prison guard who befriends Nelson Mandela in “Goodbye Bafana”.

She played a US homicide cop in the FX series “The Bridge” and has demonstrated her French language skills in films such as Benoit Jacquot's erotically-charged historical epic “Farewell, My Queen.”

Kruger saw “In the Fade” — her first role in her native German — alone in a screening room and again 10 days later at the Cannes world premiere, an experience she describes as “overwhelming.”

“I was really, really stressed out and it's my first really big starring role. I'm in every frame of the film, so if people didn't like it that was definitely on me,” Kruger said.

The actress says she felt “a real sense of connection” with the audience, however.

“There are plenty of movies about bombs and terrorists, but it was the intimacy of this film, the small details that grief and death bring into one's life, that I found so moving and emotional,” she said.

“I believe it's what connects this film to a global audience, because we can all identify with that.”

Magnolia Pictures is giving “In the Fade” an awards-qualifying run at select US theaters this month and a nationwide rollout next year.

By Frankie Taggart

WOMEN

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers

To celebrate the works of women in the German film industry, and at the conclusion of this year's special outdoor Berlinale, we have compiled a list of seven must-watch German films directed by women. 

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers
A scene from System Crasher. credit: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Peter Hartwig

This year’s Oscars marked the first time in its almost 100-year history that two female filmmakers – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – were nominated in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated for this award. Zhao took home the gong, becoming just the second woman ever to do so.

In 2021’s Berlinale Festival, 60 percent of the films in the Generation category were directed by women — with 75 percent of female filmmakers making up the Kplus selection (a category for younger audiences).

Here is a look at seven films by some of the most influential female directors in German cinema.

Never Sleep Again (1992) — Pia Frankenberg

Featured in Berlinale’s Retrospective series, meant to showcase female filmmakers, this film is written, directed and produced by Cologne-born filmmaker, Pia Frankenberg.

The film follows three female friends through post-unification Berlin, who are making their way to a wedding when their car breaks down. They wander through the streets of former East Berlin, roaming in and out of bars meeting men. 

The dilapidated sites of the former Cold War frontier city, still scarred by World War II, become a place for sheer endless personal experimentation where the women begin to reconfigure their lives and loves.

Frankenberg’s impressionistic portrait of three women in the city reflects on the state of the newly unified Germany, where for a moment all possibilities seemed radically open. (Available on Mubi, Binged)

The German Sisters (1981) — Margarethe Von Trotta 

Considered one of the classics of the New German Cinema movement, The German Sisters tells an intimate story of Germany. 

Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is an expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political. It’s the story of Juliane, a feminist journalist and her sister, Marianne, who is a terrorist revolutionary. The film, which won six awards at the Venice Film Festival including the Golden Lion, was Margarethe Von Trotta’s third film and first collaboration with Barbara Sukowa. The director-actor duo went on to do six more films together. (Available on Mubi, Prime)

Margarethe Von Trotta on set in 1975. Photo: dpa | Bertram

Toni Erdmann (2016) — Maren Ade 

Toni Erdmann is a German-Austrian comedy which was directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, was named the best film of 2016. 

Meant to showcase the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, the film pairs carefully constructed, three-dimensional characters in a tenderly funny character study. A hard-working woman reluctantly agrees to spend time with her estranged father when he unexpectedly arrives.

As a practical joker, the father does his best to reconnect by pretending to be her CEO’s life coach. (Available on Mubi, Kanopy, Prime, Vudu)

I Was at Home, But (2019) — Angela Schanelec 

I was at home, but (Ich war zuhause, aber) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Angela Schanelec. At the Berlinale that year, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film is a story about a 13-year-old student, Phillip, who disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears. 

It maps the existential crises his mother and teachers are confronted with that change their whole view of life. The film features several plots, which tell the stories of several people who are all connected to Phillip in some way. It has scenes with long silences, to contrast ones with heavy dialogue, which critics believe makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. (Available on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, or rent on YouTube).

The Audition (2019) — Ina Weisse

This film has been described as a symphonic study of human behaviour. It’s the story of a violin teacher, who takes great interest in mentoring a student for an audition. Anna, the violinist and teacher played by Nina Hoss, shows plenty of compassion toward the boy at first, but their relationship becomes much more strained as the date of Alexander’s audition nears and Anna begins to put him through musical torture. Come the day of the exam, events take a tragic turn. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Pelican Blood (2019) — Katrin Gebbe 

Pelican Blood is written and directed by Katrin Gebbe, who won the 2014 Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik (German Film Critics’ Prize) for her first film.

It tells the story of a woman who trains police horses. She adopts her second child, a severely traumatised five-year-old girl. When the girl shows violent and anti-social behaviour, her new mother becomes determined to help her.

The film has been described as raising fascinating questions – how do you draw boundaries for a child who seems to ignore them or even takes a perverse pleasure in overstepping them? What can you do as a parent when you realize that your love and protection aren’t enough? (Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)

System Crasher (2019) — Nora Fingscheidt

Another film about a rebellious child, System Crasher picked up a whopping eight German Film Awards after its release in 2019.

The film has a powerful political message about the inadequacies of the universal child care system. The protagonist, Benni, is a violent nine-year-old girl who suffers from psychotic episodes. Her key social worker, Frau Bafané, tries to get Benni into special schools or facilities; dozens turn her down and Benni is too young to be effectively sectioned as an inpatient.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fingscheidt says, “There’s a very German dimension to the film in the obsession with bureaucracy, with rules that need to be adhered to. Rules like, ‘this child cannot stay in this home because they are getting too emotionally attached,’ when that institution may be the first place where a child has begun to open up.”

The film has received an incredible amount of international recognition, garnering 45 international awards. (Available on Netflix)

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