Culture

Love, grief and righteous vengeance in Berlin

BEIRUT: The courtroom drama seems to be undergoing a revival these days, with samples of the genre surfacing at both the Cannes and Venice film festivals this year. By far the best courtroom drama to wash up in Beirut so far this year is Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade.”

The film premiered at Cannes this spring, where it won Diane Kruger the festival’s Best Actress prize. Germany has since nominated Akin’s work to represent the country in the Oscar race for best foreign language film, just in time for its regional premiere at Metropolis Sofil Thursday, where it opened German Film Week.

Akin’s courtroom drama-cum-thriller is steeped in his country’s current social and cultural ferment – mingling national identity and immigration, a National Socialist history and current experience of economic polarization.

Though these issues have been pulled into focus by Europe’s migrant crisis, “In the Fade” is not a migrant crisis drama.

It tells the story of the aborted love affair between Katja and Nuri Sekerci. Nuri (Numan Acar) is introduced as a Kurdish immigrant and reformed drug dealer who now does translation, tourism and other intermediary services for Berliners. Katja (Kruger) says she met Nuri when she bought pot from him. As the film demonstrates, the couple married while he was doing time.

The film opens with Katja dropping her little boy, Rocco, at his father’s office. As she’s leaving, she sees a young woman leaning her new bike against a light post outside Nuri’s shop front.

“If you don’t chain it,” she warns the woman, “someone will steal it.”

“I’m coming right back,” the startled-looking woman replies.

Returning to collect her husband and son later that day, Katja finds the street’s under police cordon. Nuri’s office has been bombed. There’s no trace of him or their boy.

The police and courtroom procedurals unfold completely from Katja’s perspective. She’s certain her family was murdered by neo-Nazis but the police insist on pinning it on Kurdish or Turkish gangs. Maybe Albanians. Katja’s despair is about to attain terminal velocity when her lawyer informs her that the cops have arrested a pair of neo-Nazi suspects.

Katja sheds her despair for righteous outrage, a rage she hones to a lethal edge as the plot develops, within the courtroom and without.

In the past two decades Fatih Akin has developed a reputation for his varied cinematic palette. Though the writer-director has an abiding interest in multicultural Germany, and particularly the stories of the country’s Turkish community, he’s worked that mélange into a diverse range of movies that include sweet-natured – sometimes eccentric – comedies (“Im Juli,” 2000, “Soul Kitchen,” 2009, “Good-bye Berlin,” 2016) as well as dramas, the most blistering of which is 2004’s “Gegen die Wand.”

In its drama and socio-economic location, “In the Fade” is much closer to “Gegen die Wand,” but it falls short of the searing intensity and auteur finesse of the older work.

The main difference between the two films lies in the plotting. As a police/courtroom procedural “In the Fade” must comply with the rigid genre demands. A thinking viewer will find many holes in the courtroom narrative that ignore, for instance, the hegemony of the surveillance camera in contemporary urban life.

The story implies a latent bias in police and judicial procedure that tends to make German justice inclined to prosecute non-Germans (and Germans of foreign heritage) while protecting the civil rights of suspects on the far right. It’s a suggestion the narrative never develops.

Fortunately for Akin, and his audience, Katja is animated by Diane Kruger. This may be a surprising statement for some, since there is little evidence in Kruger’s previous work – European and American titles like “Troy,” 2004, “Joyeux Noel,” 2005, “Unknown,” 2011, and the “National Treasure” franchise – to suggest she’s capable of the intensity that she wields for this role.

Kruger’s performance buoys up the film, pushing it forward despite the leaks in is plot. For those lured to cinema for affecting performances of strong female characters, “In the Fade” is to be recommended. Those awaiting Akin’s follow-up to “Gegen die Wand” must wait a little longer.

German Film Week continues at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil through Oct. 1 For more, see: http://www.metropoliscinema.net

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 23, 2017, on page 16.

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