Diane Kruger in In the Fade

I’ve often been puzzled by re-titling decisions made by Anglophone distributors of foreign language pics, but this week’s film provides an example of a title change that’s more annoying than puzzling.

Originally released as Aus dem Nichts (‘out of nowhere’) in its native Germany, In the Fade (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Jan. 12) takes its English language title from a song performed by hard rock band Queens of the Stone Age, presumably because QOTSA head honcho, Josh Homme, composed the film’s score.

The suits at US distributor Warner Brothers may have experienced second thoughts about their decision after an unfortunate recent incident involving Mr. Homme, a camera, and a concussed photographer. What surely seemed like a savvy business decision when inking the film’s distribution agreement — tying the name of a popular rocker to an otherwise obscure foreign film — might suddenly have seemed a little unwise, especially considering that ‘In the Fade’ (the song) has nothing to do with In the Fade (the film).

Enough griping, though: written and directed by Hamburg-born filmmaker Fatih Akin (Head-On), In the Fade is an absolute corker and a great way to start the cinematic new year. Part courtroom drama, part thriller, Akin’s film transcends both genres thanks to star Diane Kruger (The Better Angels), whose performance earned her the Best Actress award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Kruger plays working-class Hamburger Katje Jessen, whose prison-hosted marriage to small-potatoes drug dealer, Nuri Sekerci (Numan Akar), opens the proceedings. Resplendent in white leisure suit and man-bun, new husband Nuri looks like a man who might attract trouble, and so it proves to be.

Six years later, Nuri has served his time and is now working at a main street übersetzungsbüro (translation agency). His marriage to Katje has been a success; the happy couple now have a young son, Rocco, and a nice home paid for by Nuri’s wealthy Kurdish parents.

Alas, their idyll comes to a violent end when an explosion outside the büro instantly kills Nuri and Rocco. The police immediately suspect Nuri’s criminal past has caught up with him (it’s either that, or the killing must be related to Kurdish politics or terrorism), but Katje believes that neo-Nazis are responsible – and she’ll go to any lengths to prove her thesis.

There are twists and turns aplenty throughout In the Fade, and a genuinely suspenseful third act that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats. It’s Kruger’s well-controlled but deeply affecting performance, however, that is key to the film’s success, as we see Katje travel from shock and despair to rage and — eventually — resolve and resignation.

And what about Homme’s contribution? Well, there’s nothing wrong with his score – and also nothing very special about it. Whether or not his connection to the film contributes to In the Fade’s success (or failure), this is an excellent film that will hopefully reach a widespread audience on its own terms — and, who knows, it might even earn an Oscar nomination come Jan. 23.

Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...