What starts as the honest exploration of a political issue can end up having flat, simplistic results.
When I watch a movie, I try to think about the directors’ intentions. What kind of messages are they trying to convey? Some are uninterested in giving clear moral lessons, while others are more blatantly political. Those who show ambiguity make the audience ask questions, while the political ones take sides and provide answers. Personally, I prefer ambiguity because I’m baffled by life’s complexity, and I like movies that recognize and explore that. At the same time, I admire directors who dare to tackle political subjects that seem unsurmountable, like human cruelty and its consequences, or grief and and its depths. The risk in that is that what starts as the honest exploration of a political issue can end up having flat, simplistic results. That’s what happens with In The Fade, a movie about white supremacy and revenge, directed by Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin.
In The Fade stars Diane Kruger as Katja, a German woman who, at the beginning of the film, marries a Turkish man (Nuri, played by Numan Acar) while he’s in prison on drug-related charges. She met him when she bought drugs from him in college, but years later they become a more or less conventional couple with a six-year-old son, Rocco, and a stable business where Nuri helps other foreigners who live in Germany. The movie’s central theme is the rise of hate crimes against immigrants and people of color in Germany, as well as how Katja’s husband and son become the victims of one of those crimes.
One day, Katja goes back to Nuri’s office and discovers that her family was killed by a bomb attack. She immediately falls under the weight of her grief, which leads to one of Diane Kruger’s best performances in her career. At first, she behaves like any grieving person would, despairing and indulging in drug use to cope with her loss. To her, life stopped making sense the moment she realized her family was gone, and the choices she takes to move on with her life become increasingly dangerous after she discovers that a couple of neo-Nazis are the ones to blame for the murders.
In the courtroom, Katja and her lawyer present evidence that would plausibly assure the arrest of the couple, but the police and a cartoonishly evil defense attorney insist on diverting the case towards Nuri’s past and his history with drugs. Without any evidence, they speculate about the involvement of the Turkish mafia and Islamist terrorists, concluding that the couple is innocent. What is the purpose of showing a one-dimensional villain like the defense attorney? Is racism always blatant? Does it always include smirks and a vile appearance?
Of course it doesn’t. The most common form of racism is subtle and ubiquitous. That is the danger of cartoonish characters: they make us think that society’s issues, like racism, are sustained by a few “evildoers” instead of a whole system that we carry within ourselves and unchecked values like nationalism. So, what does Katja do next? She follows the free couple and takes the next step, like in any revenge movie, but it's not clear where that search for revenge truly takes her.
Like Katja, as an audience we have to decide what’s right in such a situation: to eliminate one manifestation of the bigger problem, or to take a step back to ask a more difficult question about how we relate to one another as people?
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