The most important shot of Turkish-German director Fatih Akin's In the Fade might be its last -- a key to unlocking the film. I'm not giving too much away to say that it's an image of an upside-down sea. It calls into question the perspective we've been given, and thus undercuts what might have seemed the more familiar elements of this movie about a woman's quest for justice after the deaths of her husband and son. It dares to tell us that all along we might have been watching an upside-down world.
Despite his international art-house pedigree, Akin has always had a populist streak, and In the Fade embraces convention even more than his previous work. And yet it also hit me hard in ways I didn't quite expect. As a fellow member of the Turkish diaspora, I sometimes find his work nails the perspective of the insider-outsider, even in stories that aren't ostensibly about Turks. But he can also veer headlong into the simplistic and cliche.
In the Fade's first half is emotionally harrowing, as Katja Sekerci (Diane Kruger) discovers that her Turkish husband Nuri (Numan Acar) and young son Rocco have been killed by a bomb placed outside Nuri's Hamburg accounting office. Every terrifying, unbearable beat of Katja's emotional journey is rendered in acute detail. (Kruger won a well-deserved Best Actress award at Cannes.)
But the film has three sections, each assuming different genre conventions. It seems to settle into a standard-issue courtroom drama, albeit an effectively acted and written one. But then the final section reveals that there's more going on. I now believe this is one of Akin's best.