After winning the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film last week, In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts) is now being tipped for an Oscar. That would mean it joining a select band of just three German films to have ever won an Academy Award: The Tin Drum, Nowhere in Africa and The Lives of Others.
Let's hope the Academy has more sense than the Global Globe jury. Fatih Akin’s new release can’t hold a candle up against those films. The only thing that makes it halfway watchable is a convincing performance by Kruger.
It tells the story of Katja Sekerci (Diane Kruger), whose husband Nuri and young son Rocco are killed when a bomb explodes outside the family business in a Turkish neighbourhood in Hamburg.
When police initially suspect that the murder has something to do with Nuri’s past life as a drug dealer, Kruger slips into a drug-fuelled depression and almost kills herself. She has suspected from the very beginning that neo-Nazis were behind the bombing.
Before too long though, the police see the error in their ways and arrest a young couple who worship Hitler.
In the second part of the film, the couple are up in court and the viewer is left in no doubt that they are guilty of the crime. The judges see it differently though. They acquit the couple, citing among other things Kruger’s character unreliability as a witness due to her alleged drug habit.
Unable to find justice via the German court system, Kruger decides to seek vengeance herself. She tracks the couple down to a Greek seaside resort, where they have moved to escape the attention of the German media. We then see Kruger building a bomb and making one attempt to put it under the couple's caravan before seeing a little chirpy bird flying around the wing mirror and having a change of heart.
Does she realize that not playing god with other people's lives is what marks her out from the Nazis who robbed her of her family? No, she goes back the next day and ends it all in an al-Qaida style suicide mission.
As the camera pans out over the sea, a text appears on screen explaining to the viewer that the film was a tribute to the real life victims of a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Underground (NSU). Between the years 2000 and 2007, a trio of neo-Nazis who called themselves the NSU shot and killed nine people from immigrant backgrounds as well as a police woman. As far as is known, the victims were picked purely for the fact that they were immigrants.
And this is where In the Fade turns from a ropey revenge drama with little interesting to say into something much worse.
Anyone not acquainted with the real facts of the NSU story could be forgiven for sympathizing with a police force who were distracted by the victim's criminal past.
In real life none of the victims had any criminal associations. Nonetheless, police still assumed that the murders were carried out by an elusive Turkish mafia. Because detectives investigated according to their prejudices rather than the evidence, the neo-Nazis went on killing with impunity for years (they eventually got so frustrated that they sent a video to a TV channel taking credit for the killings).
In fact police only found the killers when they carried out a bank robbery. Even then, two of the three killed themselves before police could arrest them.
The one surviving member of the trio has still to be found guilty for the crimes. Her trial in Munich has plodded on for years – it is now the longest-running criminal case in German legal history.
Despite the fact that some of them have gone 17 years without justice, none of the victims' relatives have ever tried to take the law into their own hands. Nobody has sought retribution against the inept police forces or the extremist circles that the Nazis' extreme ideology was nurtured in. On the contrary, one of the victim's daughters become an award winning author for her book examining what the murders say about Germany.
In the Fade reminded me of a similarly dubious Hollywood movie (ironically the one that made Kruger famous) – Inglourious Basterds, a Tarantino film in which a brigade of Jewish soldiers seek brutal revenge on the Nazis.
Both films, masquerading as tributes to victims of oppression, are little more than revenge fantasies, where the baddies are cardboard cut outs, there to meet a worthy death at the hands of otherwise powerless victims.
This gross oversimplification leaves In the Fade with the basic message: the state is a failure so violence is the logical solution… something not so dissimilar to what you might hear in an underground meeting of the NSU.