Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 13, 2017

In the Fade

Filed under: Fascism,Film — louisproyect @ 7:44 pm

Last Sunday I took part in the yearly awards meeting of NY Film Critics Online. The winners are here. I was generally okay with the choices except for “Mudbound” and “Lady Bird” that I considered overrated. But then again, I consider capitalism overrated.

When it came time to vote for best foreign language film, I had to ask a colleague what “In the Fade” was about, the hands down winner. He told me it was about a German woman named Katja seeking justice after a bomb kills her Kurdish husband and their young son. Oh, that one. I had completely forgotten about it. That’s what happens when you get to be my age.

At first, the cops conduct an investigation assuming that the man was killed for political reasons but change gears after it becomes clear that he was no activist despite his Kurdish origins. Next they surmise that it might have been a hit carried out by the Turkish, Kurdish or Albanian mafia since he had once spent four years in prison for a drug trafficking conviction. Katja tells them that he would not jeopardize their lives by dealing drugs. She added that she suspected it was Nazis who set off the bomb on the doorstep of the street level tax processing office he worked out of in a neighborhood that was home to many immigrants.

It turns out that she was right.

I am glad that my NYFCO colleagues chose this film otherwise I probably never would have bothered to watch the DVD that I received from Magnolia, the film distribution company behind it. I have seen nearly every film made by the Turkish director Fatih Akin who grew up in Germany. Except for “The Edge of Heaven”, I had rated them all as “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes but was put off by the mediocre 55% “fresh” rating there for “In the Fade”. As a rule of thumb, I generally find any film with those kinds of numbers not worth bothering with, even if directed by someone for whom I generally have a high regard.

While I still might have picked “Happy End” and “Other Side of Hope” over it, it is top-notch Fatih Akin and it doesn’t get much better than that. Akin is a politically committed filmmaker who often gets bad reviews because he defies conventional tastes. For example, his “The Cut” also received a mediocre rating (58%) on Rotten Tomatoes but I saw it anyhow since it was about the Armenian genocide. Needless to say, when a Turkish filmmaker makes such a film, he deserves our support. Not only was it a much-needed plea for justice for the victims, it was also a well-made film as I pointed out at the time.

I will have some comments on the negative reviews of “In the Fade” made by some leftist critics after making my own case for the film that should be available as VOD before long.

Most of the film is set in a courtroom where the lawyer defending the accused neo-Nazi husband and wife team is as disgusting as them. Since there is a mountain of evidence linking them to the bombing, his defense revolves around making Katja look bad. In her testimony, she identifies the wife who left a bicycle carrying explosives in front of her husband’s office. This links her to her husband whose garage was filled with bomb-making material.

Early on, even before the bombing, we learn that Katja liked to get high. There is nothing genteel about her. Her body is covered with tattoos and she likes to dress in all-black punk rock attire. It was natural for her to hook up her Kurdish husband since he sold drugs on her college campus. Despite their rebellious appearance, both had lived staid middle-class lives for many years even if that includes recreational drugs.

The lawyer defending the neo-Nazis successfully wins an acquittal by making the case that she was too high on the day of her husband’s death to really be able to recollect the appearance of the woman who planted the bomb. Devastated by the decision, Katja then begins to explore ways that she could make them pay for their crime even though that entails becoming a killer herself.

Katja is played by Diane Kruger and would have earned my nomination for best actress of the year if I had seen the film in advance of the NYFCO meeting. Torn apart by both grief and rage, her character requires her to convey those emotions without melodrama. Kruger delivers such a performance in spades.

Fatih Akin decided to write the screenplay for “In the Fade” after seeing a similar miscarriage of justice in Germany. In 2000, die Dönermorde–the kebab murders—began taking place in immigrant neighborhoods just like the one depicted in “In the Fade”. The Guardian reported:

In the beginning, they were known as die Dönermorde – the kebab murders. The victims had little in common, apart from immigrant backgrounds and the modest businesses they ran. The first to die was Enver Şimşek, a 38-year-old Turkish-German man who ran a flower-import company in the southern German town of Nuremberg. On 9 September 2000, he was shot inside his van by two gunmen, and died in hospital two days later.

The following June, in the same city, 49-year-old Abdurrahim Özüdoğru was killed by two bullets while helping out after hours in a tailor’s shop. Two weeks later, in Hamburg, 500km north, Süleyman Taşköprü, 31, was shot three times and died in his greengrocer’s shop. Two months later, in August 2001, greengrocer Habil Kılıç, 38, was shot twice in his shop in the Munich suburbs.

The victims were Turks living in Germany just like Fatih Akin and the killers were members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) that the cops failed to pursue. Instead, just as was the case in Akin’s film, they tried to persuade Enver Şimşek’s widow that the Turkish mafia was responsible.

The assassinations continued in seven different German cities for six years and the cops were unable (or refused to entertain the possibility) that they were connected. Like the southern cops during the days of Jim Crow (and, sadly, even now), there were well-grounded suspicions that the German cops were looking the other way when the racist attacks were taking place. A member of the German intelligence service was at the scene when one of the murders took place and others involved in the investigation were German KKK members.

In 2007, as investigators began to suspect ties between the cops and the NSU, the police department shredded files pertaining to the recruitment of fascists as snitches. Were they covering up evidence that such recruits were actually being used as death squads? After Der Spiegel learned that the officials ordering the shredding were in the BfV (the German counterpart of the FBI), it wrote:

For intelligence officials, investigations into the files have become increasingly embarrassing. The documents make clear just how chaotic the situation related to purging and exchanging files had become. This has resulted, for example, in discrepancies between the list of files that BfV officials sent to Saxony and the list of those that have now turned up there.

These new reports might very well lead the parliamentarians on the investigative committee to wonder whether additional files with possible relevance to the NSU trio have also been destroyed. One list itemizing the deleted files indicates that a comparatively large number of dossiers related to right-wing extremism were destroyed after the terror cell had resurfaced. The itemization says that there were seven cases of document destruction in November 2011, 12 for December and seven more in early 2012.

Given the rise of the neo-Nazi AfD in Germany, Akin’s film is not just ancient history. It is a warning that new threats to immigrants can be posed by shadowy ties between the state and those determined to reinstate the Third Reich.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how so many Rotten Tomatoes critics failed to appreciate “In the Fade” when it clearly lived up to the honor given to it by NYFCO members. I was stunned to see that two of them were leftists like me, or at least claimed to be.

Dennis Schwartz complained, “What is not mentioned is that the greater threat to the population is from Islamist extremists and not neo-Nazis.” Huh? Maybe if Schwartz were a Muslim in Germany, where AfD is on the rise, he’d have a different outlook. Out of curiosity, I checked Schwartz’s background and to my astonishment discovered this: “The critic who influenced him the most was Walter Benjamin, not a film critic but one of the truly great literary critics of the 20th century. The lesson to be learned from him and other serious critics is that all true art is subversive and unsettling.” Maybe Schwartz wasn’t aware that Benjamin killed himself rather than being returned to Nazi-controlled France in 1940? Talk about the betrayal of the semi-intellectuals.

Then we have Richard Porton who complained about Akin being “heavy-handed”. His “ultra-schematic plot foregrounds evil neo-Nazis with a yen for terrorism”. Porton a NYU film studies professor who wrote “Film and the Anarchist Imagination” for Verso and articles for leftie publications like Cineaste and In These Times. Since Porton has also written that “Battle of Algiers” is one of the 10 greatest films ever made, I wonder why he didn’t complain about it featuring evil French officers torturing Algerian captives. On second thought, who cares? The one thing that “In the Fade” cannot be accused of is heavy-handedness. Despite the temptation presented by the neo-Nazi characters and the failure of the criminal justice system in Germany, this is a film mostly about the emotional turmoil of a widow. I didn’t have to be lectured about the evils of fascism but I did get a lot out of the dramatic recreation of what one of the widows of NSU’s victims had to endure. That’s why Akin chose the words of the song “In the Fade” by Queens of the Stone Age for the title of his film rather than those of Martin Niemoller of “First they came for the Jews” fame.

Cracks in the ceiling, crooked pictures in the hall
Countin’ and breathin’, I’m leaving here tomorrow
They don’t know I never do you any good
Laughin’ is easy, I would if I could

Ain’t gonna worry
Just live till you die, want to drown
With nowhere to fall into the arms of someone
There’s nothing to save I know
You live till you die

 

2 Comments »

  1. […] via In the Fade […]

    Pingback by Film called “In the Fade” review | nickweechblog's Blog — December 13, 2017 @ 9:20 pm

  2. Having seen In the Fade, I can’t stress enough what an incredible performance Diane Kruger gives as Katja. The politics are important but the core of the film and what makes it so compelling is Diane Kruger’s Katja. She never strikes a false note.

    Comment by Hylozoic Hedgehog — January 19, 2018 @ 3:53 am


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