Victims' Rights

FILM: IN THE FADE original title Aus dem Nichts (18) 2017 106mins, US/Germany; Directed by Fatih Akin, with Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Numan Acar.

Not only is this film about terrorism, a subject about which it isn’t possible to have an opinion other than simple and definitive repulsion, In the Fade has also collected a number of very important industry awards and notices: main competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival where Diane Kruger won Best Actress; German entry for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards; a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film; all of which, subject matter and critical acclaim, adds up to an offering which is effectively criticism-proof, beyond any kind of artistic carping.

Writing in the May 21, 2018 issue of The New Yorker magazine, Jill Lepore discusses what she calls the rise of the victims’-rights movement, particularly in relation to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City in 1995 by Timothy McVeigh and the way victims’-rights aligned with the interests of many feminists, given that crimes involving violence against women were, at that time (and still now), difficult to prosecute to conviction.

She writes: “Removing victims from criminal prosecutions had been the work of centuries; putting them back in has been the work of decades.” Her main point is: “This historical, restore-the-balance argument—the central tenet of the victims’-rights movement—is both superficially right and profoundly wrong.” She sees the movement as the result of an unholy alliance between a string-em-up conservative agenda and a feminist cause, the outcome an unforeseen disaster.

In the Fade is about one particular victim of a crime; a crime not dissimilar to that committed by Timothy McVeigh: a terrorist attack, a bombing by white people with right-wing sympathies aimed at the state, in this case, Germany, an act which kills innocent people, a husband and his young son, and leaves victims, loved ones, to deal with the aftermath.

Whatever the legal issues, and there are differences between the German and US legal systems, Germany doesn’t have trial by jury for example, the decision to focus the film on the experience and journey of one individual victim is an artistic choice, which results in a specific kind of film about which it’s possible to have a view, even when the subject matter is beyond debate.

Another apparently unrelated aside: there has been some interest lately (ok, a couple of articles) in the wine industry, as in the global behemoth centred on a few parts of France, which has become more and more a kind of chemical-industrial enterprise, based less and less on fermented grape juice and more and more on perfecting a product with wide acceptance and infinite repeatability. The old idea that some vintages were better than others has been overtaken by factory techniques and food colouring, so that all years are equal no matter what the climatic or geographic realities. Terroir is no longer.

Eccentric wine lovers are fighting back, using old fashioned techniques and grape varieties long out of fashion, creating wines that the global cognoscente are pulling faces at.

This seems not dissimilar to the film industry, a global behemoth, centred on parts of California, based on techniques which can create a product with wide acceptance and infinite repeatability. One of those techniques, an ingredient of the secret sauce, is the focus on the lived experience, the inner life of a character. Feelings can’t be gainsaid.

In the Fade is a film about a victim. Yes, a victim of a horrific crime; yes, a victim who isn’t accorded justice by the courts; a victim who takes things to an understandable conclusion. This is, ultimately, a product from a film industry that has lost control of its commercial imperatives. Just like the wine industry, profit has swamped any kind of integrity. The inner life of the character has become like using sulphur in the fermentation process, it gives a guarantee that the item will confirm to what the consumer wants, what their taste has become accustomed to prefer.

We don’t know yet if Donald Trump acted to pervert the course of justice, but what is certain is that he is fighting back against the investigation into his actions by presenting himself to his so-called ‘base’ as a victim. A victim mostly of fantastical conspiracy theories which don’t hold up, but he is very good at presenting himself as a victim and so, ipso facto, he is a victim. And films (and plays and books) about the inner lives of their characters have done an excellent job of making it clear how we have to respond to feelings, even if they reside inside someone like Donald Trump. We have to believe them. Feelings overcome truth. Feelings are truth. This is very dangerous.

Paul Corcoran