Aus dem Nichts (2017)

vt In the Fade
Germany, France / 106 minutes / color / Match Factory, Bombero, Warner Bros., Macassar, Pathé, Dorje, Corazón, Canal+, Ciné+ Dir: Fatih Akin Pr: Nurhan Ôekerci-Porst, Fatih Akin, Herman Weigel, Ann-Kristin Homann Scr: Fatih Akin, Hark Bohm Cine: Rainer Klausmann Cast: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Johannes Krisch, Samia Muriel Chancrin, Numan Acar, Hanna Hilsdorf, Ulrich Friedrich Brandhoff, Rafael Santana, Ulrich Tukur, Karin Neuhäuser, Uwe Rohde, Asim Demirel, Aysel Iscan, Henning Peker, Ionnis Economides, Youla Boudali.

There’s little point in denying that Diane Kruger is a beautiful human being, and it was on this basis that, I’m sure, she got the part in National Treasure (2004) that perhaps above all brought her to the notice of the US public. Yet even in that movie—an adventure in the Dan Brown mold—where all that was really required of her was that she be a scrummy blonde, she showed herself to be far more an actress than simply another pretty face; countless female Hollywood heartthrobs could have filled the role of Nicolas Cage’s love interest, but relatively few could have convinced me they were indeed academic archivists.

Diane Kruger as Katja.

In Aus dem Nichts/In the Fade Kruger manages to defy her own beauty to deliver one of the most electrifying performances I’ve seen in a while. Her character is in so many ways not admirable, but is one with whom only someone with a cold and stony heart wouldn’t sympathize. When she achieves her final vengeful closure, it’s hard not to leap up onto one’s seat and applaud.

Neo-Nazis leave a nail bomb in a bicycle rear pannier outside the office in (presumably) Cologne of Turkish immigrant Nuri Ôekerci (Acar), killing both him and his six-year-old son Rocco (Santana). Rocco’s mom, Katja, née Jessen (Kruger), who’d just dropped him off with his dad, actually sees the person who planted the bomb, later revealed to be the fascist Edda Möller (Hilsdorf).

Hanna Hilsdorf as Edda.

At the trial of Edda and her co-conspiring husband André (Brandhoff) it becomes obvious the pair are guilty—even André’s father Jürgen (Tukur) agrees—yet the court manages to acquit them on technicalities.

Rafael Santana as Rocco (left) and Numan Acar as Nuri.

Why? Part of the reason is, the movie indicates, ingrained racism in German society. A neo-Nazi from Greece, Nikolaos “Niko” Makris (Economides), is considered a credible witness despite his antecedents even while Katja is smeared by defense lawyer Haberbeck (Krisch) because of her drug use in the weeks after the murders; she did, after all, marry an immigrant. The chief investigating officer, Hauptkommissar (Chief Inspector) Gerrit Reetz (Peker), wastes oodles of investigative time chasing bogus theories based on the false assumption that Nuri, being Turkish, must have been a major drug dealer (as opposed to a minor pusher who served his time in jail and then went straight). Could the murders be related to the Russian mafia, or the Albanian mafia, or . . . Anything but homegrown rightwing terrorism, eh?

Sound familiar?

Hauptkommissar Reetz, epitomizing the German status quo, does not come out of this creditably. Even though it’s absolutely obvious the dead Nuri’s father, Ali (Demirel), is a respected landowner back in their native Turkey, Reetz is still keen to imply that what Ali grows on that land is illicit drugs. (“Houses,” says Katja. “He grows houses.”)

Henning Peker as Hauptkomissar Reetz.

Defense lawyer Haberbeck (Krisch) is very little better. It’s clear he despises any German woman who marries a furriner as somehow betraying the Aryan stock. It seems to be incomprehensible in his worldview that the only thing neo-Nazis are good for is spreading misery among innocent bystanders, and that somewhere down the road there must be someone with the courage to put their hand up and say, “Stop. Enough.” Perhaps he believes there are some fine people on both sides of the divide.

Johannes Krisch as Verteidiger (defense attorney) Haberbeck.

As noted, Katja’s no saint. At one stage she attempts suicide in the belief the state will forever deny her justice for the slaughter of Nuri and Rocco. She resorts to drugs. Nuri’s parents blame her for the murders (“if you’d been more careful”) while her own parents blame Nuri for getting himself murdered and for their daughter’s drugginess. Only her best pal Birgid (Chancrin) sticks by her. What began as a horrific nightmare of pain for Katja becomes even worse.

Denis Moschitto as Katja’s lawyer, Danilo Fava.

Karin Neuhäuser as Katja’s unsympathetic mother, Annemarie.

And then there’s the trial in which the killers of her husband and child are acquitted.

Aus dem Nichts (“Out of Nowhere”) deservedly won a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Movie. Kruger won the Best Actress Award at the 2017 Cannes. Akin, Kruger and the movie won or were nominated for a whole bunch of other awards, although the movie failed to make the final shortlist for the Best Foreign Movie Oscars. I’d suggest that, had it been an English-language movie, Kruger would have waltzed off with an Oscar . . . as might have possibly, despite its slowing a little during the courtroom scenes, the movie as a whole.

But, y’know: subtitles.

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