Segmented into three distinct parts to accommodate the ravaging ebbs and flows of its protagonist’s emotional state in the aftermath of tragedy, Fatih Akin’s Oscar-shortlisted Best Foreign Language Film contender, In the Fade, brought together one of Germany’s most wide-ranging and distinguished filmmakers and one of the country’s most successful actresses abroad, who had never worked in the German language.

Diane Kruger’s first homeland performance earned her an award at Cannes, awards buzz in the US, and a vehicle to display her nuanced acting capabilities. When a terrorist attack rips her life apart, Katja (vibrantly played by Kruger) is swallowed by a brutal wave of drugs, suspicion, impunity, and the promise of vindication at all costs.

In turn, In the Fade, presented Akin with an opportunity to try his hand at a thriller, with twist and a more traditional narrative structure, which though divided into clear sections, remains consistent with the genre. Through it all, the director’s storytelling is never dictated by simplistic moralist pursuits, yet, like in several of his works, his identity as a Turkish-German person experience Germany society through that lens serves once again as the backdrop. In order to infuse his screenplay, inspired by true events, with narrative clarity, Akin chose to differentiate each of the Katja’s stages using cinematography and sound recording tools. The results are subtle but compliment the shifts in tone in and in the character’s motivation.

Visiting Los Angeles to promote his latest, now nominate for a Golden Globe and one step closer to an Oscar nod, Fatih Akin chatted with MovieMaker about visual language, going with the flow on set, and why The Big Sick and In the Fade are cousins.

Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Was there a particular incident that led you to make this film now? 

Fatih Akin: There was one particular Neo-Nazi group in Germany and they were active between 2000 and 2010. They killed several people and dropped several bombs. For 10 years the investigation was just focused on the victims’ families, because the victims were people like me, immigrants. The police, the press, and society thought, “They must have something to do with the mafia. These people must be mobsters or drug-dealers.” Stuff like that. When it came out that Nazis perpetrated these crimes, it came out not because of a successful investigation but by chance, that was what made me write this, because a lot of elements from the real case are like a thriller plot. The victim was not allowed to be a victim, the victim herself is suspected to be the criminal, or she knows something about what her husband did. These were real things. They were the perfect thriller elements somehow. You have the opportunity to use film as a catharsis for your anger or to express something about issues in society, but at the same that you could make it as an entertaining thriller. That was the benefit of that case.

Diane Kruger as Katja in Fatih Akin’s In the Fade. Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

MM: The film seems to be divided in three parts. We have the beginning, when she is coming to terms with what happened, then the courtroom drama, and then the aftermath. So, when you are writing this, how did you tackle each part of the film and bring them all together? 

FA: I didn’t know from the very beginning that the film would have the shape it has, with the three parts. I was doing a lot of research. This is a spectacular story right? The whole thing is very spectacular. If you tell the plot to somebody,” This is happening and that is happening,” it’s difficult to convince the audience because it’s that spectacular. The language the film has, the rhetoric the film has, or the promise the film has is that you believe what you see, that makes the film work. It’s not like in a Tarantino film or in a Korean revenge film where very early we know, “This is in this rhetoric and I accept it as the audience.” It has another key from the beginning, which is, “I believe what I see.” To make it believable I need a lot of detail. When you lose your child, I think that’s the greatest horror that could ever happen to parents, what does that mean? What does it make you? Without spoiling it, the end of the first part is the end of the first part, but how do I get there? I have to believe that she is doing. Therefore, I needed that space. Then the courtroom sequence ends how it ends, and this is also very spectacular. It could be like, “Hey I don’t believe that shit!” But you have to believe it, and to make it believable I collected details and details so it grew. The courtroom part grew, the part in Greece grew, and I was like, “OK, good. To make the audience accept this we’ll need space and to go in other directions, I will separate the film in three parts.” That was the general idea. Once I decided that I was like, “OK, she is in three different states of mind on an emotional level, so I have to find different visual languages.” I shot the three parts with different lenses. When I decided there would be three different parts I was also looking for the technical tools to transport the difference between them. It was three difference lenses I used for the three parts and I also used three sound systems. The first part is mixed in mono, the second part is mixed in LCR  (Left, Center, Right), three channels; and the last part, which is the most transcendental part, that’s in 5.1.

MM: What were the lenses that you used for each segment? 

FA: For the last part, the Greek part, they were old Panavision lenses. They were from the ’70s, and the idea was to make it soft and beautiful. Again, without spoiling too much, it was like consolation at end. The consolation of nature, it can’t be aggressive, but soft. Nature must be accepting. Nature is very important in the third part: the clouds, the wind, the fields, and the sea. Therefore I decided to use these Panavision lenses from the ’70s because they were the most beautiful in terms of shooting the landscapes. The second part, the courtroom, that was CinemaScope, but these were very modern CinemaScope lenses. They were the latest CinemaScope lenses, the look was very clean and clinical. The first part we shot with a special system, we created a Super 16mm look. We didn’t shoot it on film, we shot digital, but with the lenses we had we put the material in the middle of the chip and then we blew it up. It was a vintage lens.

MM: Changing the subject, was Diane always the first choice to play the character? 

FA: Yes, I had no other woman in mind but Diane. It was first written for a man. It was first a revenge story of a male hero. After a while that was juts not boring, but there were also certain problems I had with the character’s motivation, kind of like, “I’ve seen this before.” It was predictable. Once it came into my mind that if I were to change the gender of the character, if I made it a heroine instead of a hero, things would get sharper, I was thinking, “Who could play this?” Diane came to my mind. In Germany she was not that known for playing these kinds of parts. She had never made a film in Germany before or in the German language. It was the first time.  It was a big surprise for my German audience. The film is now in the cinemas in Germany and that surprise worked.

MM: Describe the process of constructing the character of Katja with Diane’s input.

FA: It was the most perfect dialogue an actress and director could have. Sometimes I’ve these romantic ideas about Bogart and Houston or Scorsese and De Niro, and although Diane and I just have this one film it felt like we knew each other before. It was a real collaboration. It was not like I told her 100 percent what she had to do, and when she was doing it often the case was that I was wrong and she was right about the approach of a scene. Sometimes I had half and idea and she had half an ides and we made one idea out of it. It was a healthy exchange, and I need that. I’m dependent on my actors. There are certain directors that know exactly what they want. They know every plan, they have every line in the screenplay, and they do it exactly like they have it in their minds. I’m not. I’m the opposite. I could turn everything upside down. I go with the flow.

Diane Kruger and Rafael Santana in In the Fade

MM: Did you find parallels between the stories and characters of your previous films, like The Edge of Heaven and Head-On, and this one? Or is In the Fade something completely different?  

FA: In the end I am the line that goes through them. If you see those films you can really read me, you can read which stage I was in when I was making hose films. When I did Head-On I was young and angry, and when I did The Edge of Heaven my first child had just been born and a close friend of mine had died, so I was more thoughtful in that period. When I did Soul Kitchen I was celebrating the success I’ve had. This new film was made back in an angry stage. I was very angry when I was writing In the Fade. I made The Cut in between Soul Kitchen and In the Fade. It was a big flop. I was angry about that.

MM: In all of these films, you’ve dabbled in different genres and styles of filmmaking, from comedies to period pieces. Is that a conscious decision, to seek change? 

FA: It’s good to change. I made documentaries in between some of these films. When I watch films I watch so many different things.  I watch films from Egypt from the ’60s, the next day I see a Marvel film. You know what I mean? I try to catch everything. I’m interested in so many different fields. That’s why it makes sense for me to work in different spaces. I’d never made a film like this before. I’d never made a thriller with dramatic beats. I was wondering if I could do that or not. On the hand I had the opportunity to do what I always do, being an auteur, but on the other hand I could experiment with the changing of the rhythm and twists. I’m surprised how well it worked. I tested with audiences and I was surprised how well those worked, because it was the first time I did that. I should do it more often.

MM: With the rise of white nationalismnot only in the U.S. but also across Europe and the world—, do you feel it’s even more important to include characters of Turkish descent in your films, to continue to push for on-screen representation? 

FM: I didn’t do it for a while. I didn’t use it in Goodbye Berlin or Soul Kitchen. The characters in that one were Greeks, which is different [Laughs]. Here, the person that’s left behind is German, but those who are killed have other backgrounds. If want it or not, I always come back to that. When I work as an auteur, that part of my personality appears in the film whether I want it there or not. I’m very happy that something like The Big Sick exists. I’m so fascinated and happy by the success of that film. The film fills in a gap that society has created that’s why it’s so successful. I think The Big Sick is the brighter side of that story, and I fill in more of the darker side of that same story, but somehow I feel that both The Big Sick and In the Fade are related, like cousins in a way. Mine is a German film with subtitles, but I think that if American audiences accept that, they could really benefit from the film. MM

In the Fade opened December 27, 2017, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.