An Interview With Diane Kruger and Fatih Akin

| December 28, 2017

The argument of whether vengeance is beneficial to societies is about as old as societies themselves. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind,” whereas Alfred Hitchcock took more pleasure in saying, “Revenge is sweet and not fattening.”

In recent decades, scientists have even pointed to the dorsal striatum area of the brain, suggesting we derive emotional satisfaction from punishing others, and that the frequent cooperation required for revenge is the component that strengthens and maintains societies. The debates and complications surrounding vengeance are at the heart of director Fatih Akin’s harrowing new film In The Fade.

The story follows Katja (Diane Kruger), a native-born German woman whose Turkish husband Nuri (Numan Acar) and son Rocco (Rafael Santana) are killed in a terrorist attack. Her friends and family try their best to console her, but the overwhelming grief of the situation causes Katja to spiral into a deep depression. Eventually the suspects, a young couple from the Neo-Nazi scene, are arrested and brought to trial.

Nuri’s best friend Danilo (Denis Moschitto) represents Katja, and is confident they will come away victorious. But as the trial progresses, Katja fears justice will not be served, and must decide whether to let the German legal system resolve matters, or to take the situation into her own hands.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kruger and Akin to discuss the origins of the project and the production process. Akin was inspired by a series of murders committed by the German Neo-Nazi group NSU (National Socialist Underground) between 2000 and 2007 that left ten people dead and one wounded. The targets were mostly ethnic Turks and Kurds, and this unfortunate fact hit close to home for the filmmaker.

“It was shocking for me as I’m of Turkish background. My brother was acquainted with someone who was killed from Hamburg,” Akin says. “I started researching the concept of revenge. Does it really exist? Who would actually seek vengeance?”

This question weighs heavily on the Katja character as she navigates the idea of justice, and whether vengeance is an appropriate form of justice.

“She tries for justice, but it becomes complicated,” Kruger explains. “The challenge for me was how am I going to convey or even try to resemble to feel as much pain as my character is going through? That process took a long time.”

For Kruger, the hope was to offer a sincere and accurate portrait of a mother in mourning, and that when something so heinous is done to a love one, the pangs and thoughts of retribution are almost inescapable.

“I started prepping the film as soon as Fatih and I agreed to do it together, about six months before,” Kruger says. “Then I started going to a lot of self-help groups in New York. These individuals were not necessarily victims of terrorism but violence in general, including murder. As time passed and I was able to observe and witness what these families went through, it started to creep up within me. The stories haunted me, and I couldn’t think about anything else.”

“And slowly but surely I got there. I mean, vengeance is a feeling that most people have in one form or another. As I interacted and spoke with these families I discovered the idea of vengeance was very present within them. I like that in the movie Katja has to battle and survive many obstacles including the physical justice system and her own personal despair.”

Akin decided to shoot the film chronologically which enabled Kruger to experience Katja’s emotional journey as if it were happening to her in real life.

“Yeah, you really can’t escape it,” Kruger explains. “There was no coming home and watching a romantic comedy during shooting, but that was okay. Filming chronologically helped me immensely because I knew okay, the first three weeks are going to suck, but then there’s the revenge stage, and that gave me strength. To be honest it didn’t really feel like I was acting. Many times I was just reacting to the action of the scenes.”

One of the most striking aspects of the film is Rainer Klausmann’s cinematography. Here, Klausmann turns the camera into both a physical and emotional extension of the characters, so that every moment of sadness and suspense is constructed in vivid detail.

“Rainer and I have worked together since 2001,” Akin says. “We’ve become almost like a married couple, and what’s important in a marriage is that you always fall in love again. It’s very important that when Rainer and I work together that we don’t do things in the same manner we did in the past. We always try to grow together, and I think we’ve succeeded at that, including with this film.”

As in most director/cinematographer relationships, the two utilize a variety of visual materials in approaching the shot design.

“We always start with visual concepts,” Akin explains. “In the past these were other films, but now we work more with paintings, photographs and graphic novels. I like graphic novels a lot. I discovered this Batman serial called “Arkham Asylum.” It takes place in a psychiatric institute where the Joker and all these bad guys reside. I showed this to Rainer and said I would like to have the first part of the film with Katja’s grief to look like this comic strip; with the light very bright in the background and dark in the foreground.”

“I also showed him Orson Welles’ The Trial as inspiration for the courtroom scenes, because of the graphic lines running throughout the environment. It’s always fun coming up with these concepts, and what I love about Rainer is that he’s never constructing an image just because of the image. Each frame for him is part of the story.”

For Akin and Kruger, the demands of these courtroom scenes, both in terms of shooting and performance, were challenging to say the least.

“Honestly, the court scenes sucked,” Akin says, “There were all these monologues and technical information that needed to be conveyed to the audience. Because we shot chronologically, every day during that time Diane was in tears performing a break down, and that’s exhausting for any actor.”

“And when you do scenes like that, you have the feeling that you’re physically working. You’re loud and expressive throughout. The court scenes were also difficult to shoot on a visual level. To be shooting for six days in the same room, I’m asking myself how can I visualize it and still make it interesting for the audience? On top of that, all the characters are talking around Katja and she’s just listening, but still has to be the center of attention. That was challenging because I had never done scenes like that before, and neither had Diane.”

“Yeah, and the danger is to become complacent because there are so many people and angles to cover, so you hear the same dialog over and over again,” Diane says. “I really relied on Fatih to keep that tension, because it was very difficult for me to keep up. I thought I was conveying tension and he would keep saying no I don’t see it. I want to feel it in your clenched hands. And so I’d do another take and he’d say no, you didn’t clench your hands. I’d say yes I did, but I was like fine whatever. So I do it again and actually start bleeding in the center of my palms. Again he says, you didn’t clench your hands, and I, shoving my bleeding hand in his face, say yes I did! I went to the cross for you.”

Because of the complexity regarding the themes and attitudes explored in the film, Akin came to believe that only a female actor would be able to take on the emotional depth required of the role.

“I mean, for me as a male director, it’s always more attractive to work with female actors,” Akin says. “Originally, the protagonist was a male. This was in the early stages of development, but ultimately it felt too Charles Bronson-esque you know. It felt like a lot of stuff I had seen before. I had written myself into several dead ends. Then I had the idea that if I changed the sex, all the dead ends would become opportunities. Well, the narrative doors suddenly swung open and I knew it was right. For me, mothers are heroes.  I can tell you this because I live with a mother, and they have tough jobs. As in the film, if you take a child away from a mother, what’s left?”

Although the film examines prejudice within contemporary German society, both Kruger and Akin wish for the project to stand as a lasting study of justice that transcends geographic boundaries.

“The appeal of this script, other than working with Fatih, was that it felt like a very universal film,” Kruger says. “Even though it’s in the German language, what it talks about is a global issue; the sentiment of grief and empathy. What my character is going through could take place in America, France or a variety countries.”

“Yes, it became a very personal film for me,” Akin says. “Although she’s a blond and blue-eyed German woman, the character of Katja is my alter ego. I agree that this film is about that universal feeling of grief and its many layers.”

In The Fade is now playing in New York and Los Angeles.

About the Author:

Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia University. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, Chicago Literati and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in Los Angeles.

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