Emotional catharsis leaves complex questions unexplored
Rating: ♣ ♣ ♣ ½
Aus Dem Nichts, translated to the English title, In the Fade, by director Fatih Akin chronicles the tragedy of loss due to political extremism and the vicious cycle of revenge it can set in motion. Based on the murder of nine people across Germany with foreign backgrounds — Turkish, Kurdish, and Greek — by the group Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (NSU) between 2000 and 2006, the film charts the aftermath of a bombing attack on the office of a Turkish-born man and his son.
Set in Hamburg and Greece, the film centres on Katja, played by Diane Kruger. Despite her sunken retreat into grief due to the loss of her husband Nuri and son Rocco, Katja’s teary blue eyes, lopsided blonde hair, and punkish tattoos are staple eye candy throughout the film. Akin’s project in making grief, and the things people may do when overwhelmed by it, the central motif is clear from the get go. Katja’s bespectacled son is given a reassuring motherly hug after he is nearly hit by a speeding car in one of the opening scenes, and then shortly afterwards the camera pre-emptively hovers over him as he waves goodbye to Katja, comically exaggerating the word empathy, as though this is Akin’s answer to racism and violent crime.
From this point on, Katja is punished for leaving her son as she transitions from the role of mother to free woman in the company of her pregnant best friend on a trip to a Turkish sauna, the tone of the film shifting with Katja’s return home to a crime scene. Aware of the inherent sexism in juxtaposing motherhood with sexual and social freedom, particularly on the big screen, Akin uses Katja’s multiple roles to draw out tensions in the values of her Turkish and German relatives, at the same time as presenting Katja as essentially a woman, who whatever else she might be, is also a grieving widow who has just lost her son.
Divided into three parts, the film progresses chronologically through the police investigation, the drug dealing history of Katja’s dead husband and her own use of narcotics, the court proceedings and verdict, and Katja’s emotional resolution in seeking to bring about justice on her own terms.
Whilst the trial of the alleged neo-Nazi attackers delivers a few heart-rending moments, the perpetrators remain silent throughout the proceedings and their motivation for carrying out the attack, with the exception of testimony given by the father of one of them, remains rather unclear, particularly in the case of the woman who allegedly planted the bomb. Only a very superficial gloss of the factors that lead young people to embrace xenophobic worldviews is given in this part of the film, which is difficult to balance against the gravity of their actions and Katja’s emotional reactions.
The court process therefore has a feeling of unreality to it in which there are simply bad guys and innocent victims, making the verdict evermore unbelievable. Akin has stated that he wasn’t interested in making a film about the motivations of political extremists, but without a richer account of this the film fails to provide a nuanced enough picture to lend credibility to Katja’s actions later on in the film.
As Katja travels to Greece to find the alleged murderers of her husband and son, who have befriended supporters of Greece’s nationalistic anti-immigration party, Golden Dawn, the ethical territory of the film becomes evermore blurry, pushing the audience to make some kind of moral judgement about both the legal system as an effective arbiter of justice and the justifiability of Katja’s desire for revenge. At the same time, the film begins to tread familiar cinematic thriller territory — including a short car chase — losing the raw emotional appeal of the opening parts of the film. The opening scenes being shot on a handheld camera following the release of Katja’s husband from prison and their marriage with the exchange of identically tattooed rings.
It is here that the film doesn’t deliver much insight into the emotional journey victims of violent crimes undergo in coming to terms with what has happened to them. The film ends on a deflationary note, giving up on Katja being able to re-establish some kind of life for herself and on the process of justice. Perhaps more importantly to the film’s intentions, it also fails to deliver insight into revenge and when or if some types of revenge might be justifiable.
Katja’s revenge is as totalising as her loss, revealing only that grief is sometimes insurmountable. Audiences are therefore left with the all too familiar image of a terrorist, with the suggestion that terrorists do what they do because they too have been hurt by injustice. I suspect that a subtler imagining of Katja’s confrontation with her family’s alleged murderers would have yielded a more ambiguous and insightful ending.
Nevertheless, the film exposes a troubling period in Germany’s recent past, particularly pertinent given the worrying development of right-wing populist movements across Europe and the globe. Additionally, in pursuing the theme of revenge to its conclusion, the film forces the audience to make some kind of judgement about Katja’s actions and the court processes that give rise to them, and this in itself is a small achievement.
Aus dem Nichts is showing daily at Zukunft-ostkreuz.
For other cinemas in Germany see here.
In the Fade is due to be released in Australia on 8 March 2018.