Aus Dem Nichts (2017): Written and directed by Fatih Akin. Starring: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Johannes Kirsch, Ulrich Tukur. Running Time: 106 Minutes.
And the quiet revival of German cinema continues. Aus Dem Nichts will, in all likelihood, be merely the first of many German movies in coming years to tackle the various issues surrounding immigration that have gained increasing prominence in public debate since 2015, and what a start it is. It is a hard look at how the fringe right of society, by giving in to its darkest and most violent impulses, can all too easily corrupt and drag down the rest of us when we try to grapple with it.
Diane Kruger stars as Katja, a woman happily married to a Turkish man, whose life is completely shattered when a seemingly random nail-bomb attack kills both her husband and their young son. The police eventually arrest a young neo-Nazi couple and charge them with the double-murder, and as the trial progresses (and the prospects for true justice being delivered both rise and fall), Katja struggles with how- and if- her life can ever go on, and what the loss of her family means for her future.
Central to the film is Diane Kruger’s powerhouse performance in the leading role. It’s already netted her the Best Actress award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and may well land the film a consecutive nomination for Germany in the Best Foreign Picture category at the upcoming Oscars. Her tight, drawn facial expressions run the gamut of all the emotions raging through her; her pain at the scale and senselessness of her loss is clear, but so is her incredible inner resolve, as she chooses to subject herself to every aspect of the trial, including even a skin-crawlingly detailed description by the coroner of each nail found in the bodies.
Her performance is matched by cinematography that perfectly mirrors the moods and depressions she struggles with before, during, and after the trial. This is especially apparent during the first two-thirds of the movie (there are three sections total, each separated by a chapter title), where her surroundings are filled with darkness. In one of my favorite single images of any film I’ve seen this year, the camera holds on her face as she stares out blankly at the night rain, the shadows cast by the water running down the window criss-crossing her face like black tears.
Beyond her performance, the matter at hand in the film is an inherently loaded one that will inevitably divide both audiences and casual viewers. How to properly respond to violence and extremism is such an emotional, fraught, and complex question that we will never have a commonly accepted answer to it, and the movie is filled with this ambiguity. The act of these neo-Nazis is heinous, but there is plenty of room to argue whether or not the justice system, the extended friends and family members of the victims, and even Katja herself react in healthy or constructive ways. Katja’s own conclusion, reached at the very end of the movie after a long and tortuous process of self-reflection, is the sort of ending meant to provoke endless, controversial debate afterwards.
I imagine it would be a fascinating experience to watch this film with a variety of people across political spectrums of the West and discuss its themes for several hours afterward, and perhaps one day I will have such a chance. It may take a while for this film to make the rounds, but it is absolutely a work seeing should the chance present itself.