By Kim Hughes
RATING: A-, B+
It’s hard to conceive of two more different films than In The Fade and Forever My Girl, both opening Friday. Yet both essentially detail love that is immersive and ultimately transformative. And both arrive saddled with some risk: day-long depression in the case of the former, corny overload in the latter. Both are worthwhile for highly different reasons and, as your Granny used to say, forewarned is forearmed.
Director Fatih Akin’s German-language In The Fade — which recently snapped up a Golden Globe for best foreign language film, landed actress Diane Kruger a best actress nod at Cannes and is hotly tipped for Oscars glory — is insanely heavy and completely free of the redemptive happy ending nonsense so common among Hollywood films, even those that purport to handle Big Subjects like systemic racism and virulent Islamophobia.
Kruger plays Katja, a Hamburg woman unafraid to colour outside the lines of life. That vivaciousness leads her to cross paths with Nuri, a Kurdish-born man with a somewhat checkered past (we meet him as he is sprung from prison).
Together, this perhaps unlikely couple discover an intense devotion that buoys them and their son to a storybook love. But it’s crushed when (and no spoiler alert; it’s in the trailer) Nuri and little Rocco are murdered in an apparent terrorist act.
All the themes you would expect from a film set in the alt-right–leaning present day in a country that has accepted countless foreign refugees, many of them Muslim and not without controversy, are fleshed out here. And that makes In The Fade staggeringly powerful. Everything scans as possible, and its shattering and maybe inevitable conclusion, propelled by Katja’s titanic grief, lands like a sucker-punch. This is love at its most primal.
Forever My Girl, with its vaguely Christian wash and ornately floral backdrops (literally) is a storybook love of a different sort (think Nicholas Sparks). Here, a cookie-cutter country music superstar, depressed and drunk despite his massive global success, finds redemption in the arms of the high school sweetheart he dumped at the altar (again, no spoiler; see trailer).
Despite its archetypal precocious child — an overplayed adornment that undermines the meat of the drama — Forever My Girl has plenty of heart and very solid performances from Alex Roe (a Briton impressively conjuring a Louisianan) as the doe-eyed music star and Jessica Rothe as his bent-but-not-broken ex-girlfriend. The ending is evident within the first 30 minutes of the film, sure, but the journey there is not entirely without pleasure.
So, what kind of love do you crave? In The Fade will leave you gutted, Forever My Girl will leave you misty, both may prompt incredulity. But there’s room for both, especially now in this arid cinematic season. And besides, your Granny was no dummy.
In The Fade. Directed by Fatih Akin. Starring Diane Kruger and Numan Acar. Opens January 19 in Toronto and Vancouver, January 26 in Montreal and Ottawa, and throughout the winter/spring in other cities. Forever My Girl. Directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf. Starring Alex Roe and Jessica Rothe. Opens in select cities January 19.