Diane Kruger winningly anchors wrenching tragedy ‘In the Fade’

“In the Fade” does not tell a happy story, not even close. But it is a powerful film, and it is elevated, as it would need to be, by Diane Kruger’s superb performance in the central role.

An international star and former model who is fluent in both French and English (she won a SAG Award as part of the “Inglourious Basterds” ensemble), Kruger had never acted in her native German before.

But she was so successful in this film’s terribly difficult role of Katja that her walking off with Cannes’ best actress award last year was universally applauded.

“In the Fade” is written and directed by Fatih Akin, one of Germany’s top directors whose breakthrough film was 2004’s pitch-black romance “Head-On.”

“In the Fade” (named after a song by Queens of the Stone Age, who did the soundtrack) is at its core a story of bottomless grief, its cause and consequences.

An increasingly disturbing film, it offers no relief for its central character, or for its audiences for that matter. Akin was inspired to tell the story by real-life political events in Germany, and his skills as a filmmaker are such that escape from this unsettling film is not in the cards.

The film’s happiest scene is its first, where a joyous man in a white suit is escorted out a cell to a nearby prison office where he will be married to an equally ecstatic woman.

We next meet Nuri (Numan Acar) and Katja (Kruger) living in Hamburg half a dozen years later, and the film lets us know they are unquestionably still in love.

Though she is a tattooed ex-wild child and he a former drug dealer (that’s how they met), they now have a 5-year-old son and a total commitment to each other and their child.

They are happy in that movie way that foretells doom, but it is still a terrible shock when the awful event almost immediately occurs: a deadly nail bomb is detonated in front of the office where Nuri, a tax advisor and translator, is with their son.

The scene where Katja shows up expecting to see her family and instead finds a bloody crime scene is as wrenching as you would expect, maybe even more so.

Absent having the experience, how it feels to have that kind of devastation obliterate the people you care about most deeply can’t be known, but Kruger does shattering work conveying what it looks like when the pain is beyond imagining.

The Hamburg police, unfortunately, do not make Katja’s situation easier. Because of Nuri’s criminal past, they suspect that he’s still in the game and that current or past associates set the blast, and they lean on a furious Katja to confirm the fact.

Also adding to her difficulties are two sets of obtuse parents, Katja’s German ones and Nuri’s Kurdish folks, who want to return to Turkey and take the body of their grandson with them.

The emotions in these scenes are beyond raw, and constant rain in the background does not lighten the mood.

So it’s understandable, though wrenching, to see Katja withdrawing from life, smoking up a fury with both legal and illicit substances as she tries to cope with her tragedy.

Katja has always suspected that neo-Nazis are the culprits, and that quickly turns out to have been the case.

The essential part of “In the Fade” deals with the trial of the suspects (Johannes Krisch is especially vile as their defense attorney), the verdict, and its aftermath.

This may not sound difficult to watch, but, with unsparing performances and direction, it inescapably is. As noted, “In the Fade” is not a happy story, but it is not intended to be one.

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