Fatih Akin’s Cannes hit In the Fade was recently shortlisted as one of nine finalists in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race.
With a tightly crafted script, Akin embarks on a fascinating journey of tragedy, love and revenge. It tells the story of a women (Diane Kruger) whose life falls apart following the death of her husband and son in a targeted bomb attack, and it deals with the decision of whether this women should take revenge. Winning The Best Actress Award at Cannes, Kruger renders a gut-wrenching, fearless performance as a woman forced to choose between fading away and continuing the fight for justice.
Amir Ganjavie, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): I like the courage this film shows, especially because most filmmakers are afraid of talking about revenge and are prepared to compromise. But the ending of your movie is different; it’s radical. What is your concept of revenge?
Fatih Akin (FA): The theme of revenge is very cinematic. Every second film is about revenge. It’s a very old, emotional need in human beings, going back to the Bible—Cain and Abel, “an eye for an eye” kind of thing—so it is deep within us. I’m not for the death penalty. I’m a filmmaker; I made a film about revenge. The more personally involved I am with a film the less I get bored when I’m doing it. The politics in this film is exchangeable, but I chose this one because it’s personal, because I could be a victim of such radical, extreme groups.
MM: The movie certainly criticized the the justice system, that in many cases, it is not capable of creating justice.
FA: “Creating justice,” yes. That’s the case, because the many procedures or elements involved in court decisions are not always capable of rendering justice. Justice is one of the most fundamental things in a democracy. A healthy democracy has justice, the press, and the government. These are the powers. They’re independent from each other, and that’s healthy, but it also brings conflict because sometimes my individual emotional need for justice is not covered by the way that the justice of the state works.
Imagine that you are driving a car and somebody hits you with another car. You have no witness, so you have to pay for your own damage. You say to the traffic court “But he bumped into me!” They will respond that “we have no witness,” and so I have to pay. What do I do? At night, I go and destroy the other person’s car. It’s a normal story. I’m not saying that it’s the right thing, but it’s a common story. These things happen. That’s a typical example for when the justice of the state does not cover the individual need for justice. Sometimes they don’t go together and then it’s a conflict. When there’s a conflict, there’s drama. When there’s drama, there’s a movie.
MM: It reminds me of Antigone because in that tragedy there is also the conflict between natural rights and the rights of the state. Antigone wants to bury the corpse of her brother, but the state does not permit it. In your film it is somehow different because the state is supposed to favor the victim, but it was not something that happened. It was a breach of procedures and of the court system.
FA: The court system says that if you cannot provide evidence and prove guilt, then the accused person is innocent. This is the system in general whether you win or not. Sometimes it brings emotional trouble. I don’t go that far and say that all of the German court system is racist. I don’t want to say that because I don’t believe it. However, sometimes it can look like the system is racist because the evidence is not strong enough, and so the court cannot fulfill the individual desire for justice. One thing about revenge in movies is that my film disturbs some people, but they are not disturbed by American or Korean films about revenge. All kinds of Indian films are about revenge. However, the way that I shot the film is that you believe what you see. That’s the style of the movie and people are disturbed by it. They don’t see it as fiction and that makes them feel uncomfortable.
How did you approach research on the court system?
FA: The real trial is based on a real case that is still ongoing. However, it’s so boring—it’s not at all melodramatic or emotional. That’s the system—it is intended to take away the emotion from the justice system, which is reasonable and makes sense somehow. I had to portray this in as precise and realistic a manner as possible or else my German audience would be very angry with me. On the other hand, my task was also to make it as entertaining and exciting as possible.
MM: I was amazed by Diane Kruger. How did you approach her, and why did you think that she was proper for the movie?
FA: I needed a white girl. It was very important—white, blonde, blue-eyed girl, German, Aryan. I liked the idea that an Aryan kills Nazis. Now it’s an iconic picture. We have good actresses in Germany, but if I were to cast one of the usual suspects then the film would be different. With Diane, I had the chance to make the film outstanding. I didn’t know she would be that fantastic, that mind blowing, but I thought that if she would be good it could make German audience curious because they know her as a former model who sometimes appears in films. They don’t know how good of an actress that she can be. If you can challenge your audience and surprise them, it’s always a good thing.
MM: When I think about your other movies, it seems that questions of the face and physicality are very important for you in casting.
FA: I learned that from [Emir] Kusturica. He’s the master of using faces like landscapes. When you see a Kusturica film, especially one of the early ones like Time of the Gypsies or Underground, he is always presenting faces like there are coming out of the screen. They get really three dimensional. Italian cinema is like that. I’m looking for that. I’m looking for faces. The Greek Nazi in the film, his name is Yannis Economides and he’s a filmmaker. Economides has the face. I was looking for an actor for the Greek Nazi part, and they said “There’s a film called Stratos. Check out the film. There’s an actor.” I saw the film, but then I saw the picture of the director. I didn’t need an actor; I needed the director because of his face.
MM: How do you direct the actors?
FA: I don’t do improvisation like “I don’t know what to do, so do whatever.” I don’t like that. I have a screenplay, and I try to write it as tightly as possible. Once I’m done with the screenplay, I shoot the movie. When the material is in front of the camera then it can go in another direction, perhaps because the actor drives it in that direction or because the film itself drives it in another direction. Then you listen to the film; you listen to the actor instead of trying to pull it back to the screenplay. You let it go. You have to let water flow; it’s important. Some scenes were improvised. For example: the scene in the fields, when the sun sets towards the end, the light was very beautiful. We had just finished the day, and then I had this wonderful light. I said, “Diane, there’s the field. Do something with the light in the field.” She asked “What do you want me to do?” and I said “I don’t know! Do anything!” My DP [Rainer Klausmann] said the scene did not end up in the film, because he doesn’t like that improvisation. For him, it’s amateur theater stuff. But I saw the material, and it perfectly fits into that part of the film.
What is the Turkish reaction to your movie?
FA: We have difficult times right now in Turkey. We have a huge problem in with racism, more than any other society that I know. After the United States, maybe the society that I know to be the most racist is Turkey. It has to do with our past. We haven’t yet reflected upon our past. I am a Turkish child, a son of Turkish parents; I love Turkey. A part of me is Turkish, and it’s my duty as a citizen of Turkey to do everything that I can to fight racism in Turkey. Therefore, I get attacked, but I don’t give a shit.
I think the elements you put into the story relate to that, such as the fact that this guy has a past drug problem. These things are not in his favor and totally overshadow the whole issue of racism in the court.
FA: The cops are racist. I don’t say “evil racist” but “racist” because of how they deal with drugs, Kurds, and other issues. They don’t use the facts, like they should so there is racism over there. I try to handle it softly and politely but there definitely is racism, maybe not from the court but from the investigators.
MM: What you can say about the music?
As a key for the emotional level of the film, music helps me a lot to express it. For this film, I listened to a lot of Queens of the Stone Age because I felt the mix of melancholy and anger is perfectly brought together in their music. It was suffering as drama. At the same time, it’s very angry and aggressive. I wanted a film like that—melancholy and aggressive. I had the opportunity to ask Josh Homme, if he wanted to write the soundtrack for the film. He said yes but also “I don’t want to write rock music. Is it okay if I write something else?” I said “Go, whatever you want to write.”