Interview: Fatih Akin on Anger, Morality and ‘In the Fade’ from Germany

When it was announced as Germany’s Oscar submission, Fatih Akin’sIn the Fade” immediately became one of the top contenders. This intense revenge thriller had already been garnering attention for Diane Kruger’s performance, which won Best Actress at Cannes. And with its topical themes and provocative storyline, it seemed destined to make an impact with the Academy. I was therefore excited to speak with Akin recently, as we discussed those themes and the thought process behind making the film. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Shane Slater: What made you want to do this film?

Fatih Akin: That’s a difficult question. When you decide what to do and what not to do, there’s a lot of instinct and emotion and subconscious stuff that makes these decisions. I live in Germany and we’ve had issues with neo-Nazis in the last year. And because I am the son of a Turkish immigrant, I am a possible target for these groups just because I look how I look. That bothers me. And this fear and anger I had needed catharsis. So that made me sit down and write this.

SS: Do you feel a responsibility to portray a Turkish characters a certain way?

FA: No. My wife is half-German and half-Mexican but looks very white. And she’s married to a Turkish man. So it was close to me and it was dealing with a world I know. It was important for me to give the character a certain criminal background, just to explore the relationship and Diane’s character better. These are our heroes, but they are edgy. They’re not innocent.

SS: This is Diane Kruger’s first fully German role. How did you get her involved?

FA: In 2012 at the Cannes Film Festival, I was there with a tiny documentary called “Polluting Paradise” and Diane was in the main jury. I had a party when my film had its gala and Diane popped up telling me that she wants to work with me. At that time, Diane was living in France and France is always a good market for my films. After Germany it’s the best market. So my work was popular in France and she came to that party to meet me and tell me if I ever have a part for her to play, she’d love to do it. It took me a couple years to write this. But once I had a treatment for this, I remembered the meeting with Diane, so I sent her the material and she immediately responded to it positively. And here were are.

SS: How did you decide how much violence to show? The central terrorist attack is described, not seen.

FA: I see the film from the perspective of Diane’s character. This film is very much in the tradition of Robert Bresson films, which always stay with one character, one angle, one perspective. The camera is seeing what she’s seeing. There was no need to create material which I would cut out of the film once I’ve shot it. Violence happens more in the head of the audience than on screen. We live in such violent days and cinema has become so violent. So I’m thankful for ways to tell the violence without showing it. This was an opportunity to do that, so I took it.

SS: Diane’s character is indecisive before she carries out her final act. Did you always know how you wanted to end the film?

FA: I always knew I would end it like this. Once the image was in my mind, I immediately felt this was the right thing. I had to make it believable and sensible for the audience that she would make that decision. When Diane and I shot this in chronological order and had discussions about this scene and what her character would do or not do, we could always argue about the end. It had to make sense somehow. The other thing I wanted was to not make it as clean. She’s human. You don’t take these decisions very easily. I don’t believe in that. It wouldn’t convince me.

SS: It’s a very provocative ending and I’ve heard some persons criticizing it as lacking in morals. How would you respond to those persons?

FA: I believe in the audience. I believe the audience could take the ending as a use of catharsis, which cinema or art should always be. I think it’s a bit hypocritical to use the moral argument. That’s my personal belief. My audience is smart enough to not see her as a role model.

SS: What were the responses at the screenings? Have the reactions been what you expected?

FA: When the responses are mostly enthusiastic, it always surprises me. You don’t really expect it. You do these things and you don’t know. As a director you cannot really judge your own material. You don’t know if it’s really good or not. You’re not absolutely sure while you’re shooting it or editing or when it’s done. When people see it more and more, then you understand whether you succeeded or fucked it up.

SS: The film was submitted to represent Germany at the Oscars. How does that feel?

FA: These things make me nervous! It’s an experience. The most valuable things in life, more than the Oscars and money, are experiences. I’ve collected a lot of experiences, therefore I’m very thankful.

“In the Fade” opens in select theaters December 27.