On the inside of actress Diane Kruger’s right ankle is a tattoo of an anchor, about a half-inch across. It was visible, if you were looking for it, between the narrow black bands of the sandals she wore with a sequined Halpern minidress to a screening of her new film, the German-language In the Fade, at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art Monday night. When director Fatih Akin submitted In the Fade to the Cannes Film Festival, Kruger bet him it would never screen on the French Riviera—and if it did make the cut, she promised, she would get the tattoo. (The anchor, Akin explained Monday night, is a symbol synonymous with his hometown, Hamburg, which is also the setting of In the Fade. And “if you’re going to do an anchor, you have to do it in Hamburg,” he added. “You can’t do it here.”)
Not only did In the Fade make it to Cannes—Kruger won the festival’s Best Actress prize for her portrayal of Katja, the widow and bereft mother of a husband and son who were killed in a terrorist bombing while she spent the day at the spa with her pregnant sister. So Akin was behind the camera—or the iPhone, rather—documenting the whole thing when Kruger went under the needle in June.
It’s a fitting memento, in a way, for the film; in preparing to play Katja, Kruger devised a backstory for each of the character’s constellation of tattoos (“I promised Nuri it’s the last one,” she says early on in the film. “He’ll leave me otherwise.”), and they only accumulated as pre-production went on. “To put them on, it’s fast. It’s just choosing them that took a long time,” she said. “We tried on different skins.” (Among Katja’s collage of ink, there’s a samurai, a set of quaver notes, and even her own anchor.)
Tattoo aside, Katja proved an unshakable character for Kruger— “I still feel Katja every day,” Kruger told W in Cannes back in May. The part was emotionally and physically trying, and even more so because of deaths in Kruger’s own family. “I had a lot of personal grief; it almost feels raw,” she added. In the months since the film’s Cannes premiere, its political resonance in particular has only grown more stark: The Manchester bombing occurred just a few days before In the Fade’s Cannes premiere, and since then, the United States alone has seen a mass shooting in Las Vegas and a car ploughing down a crowded bike path in New York. “I’m acutely aware whenever something happens like this, yes, hundreds of people died, but thousands of Katjas are created,” Kruger told me.
In the Fade opens with a terror attack, but the majority of its drama focuses on how Katja copes with the fallout from her family’s deaths and the ensuing trial of the neo-Nazi couple who planted the bomb. (Katja’s husband, Nuri, was Turkish; his office, where the bombing took place, was located in a mostly Turkish neighborhood.) There’s little doubt that the two white supremacists committed the crime, and the trial seems to be as close to a slam-dunk as one might hope for—but then, they are acquitted. And at a moment when Nazism and white nationalism is resurfacing in the national political conversation, in the United States, Germany, and France alike, In the Fade could hardly be more prescient.
Earlier this year, an extreme-right-wing party, the AfD—Alternative for Germany—party, earned seats in the German parliament, just one of the substantial gains for neo-Nazi and white nationalist factions the world over. “All over the world, there’s an uprising of extreme-rights, and in Germany, they are, for the first time since World War II, part of the government,” Kruger explained. “I’m ashamed of it.” Akin echoed this: “All these countries have the same issue. They have different histories—America has a different history than Germany than France—but the issue, somehow, is the same,” he said. “We put away all the history stuff, we come up: Racism is based upon fear.”
“You don’t need to know about the actual hate that it’s based on,” Kruger said. “The issue is everywhere.”
As Kruger migrated down the red carpet outside the screening, she mentioned to one television reporter that she thought 2017 would prove to be a watershed year for the treatment of women in Hollywood and other industries, in light of the accusations of sexual misconduct that now seem to be emerging at regular intervals each day—a separate, but equally somber issue to the one treated in the film. (Kruger, who has worked on Harvey Weinstein films, told Le Figaro last month that Weinstein was never inappropriate with her, but she was familiar with the stories that had emerged—and “worse,” she added, alluding to her time working in fashion.)
I asked her to elaborate: How has she seen that change already take shape?
“We’ve created a space for women to come forward to talk about what’s been happening for years and years and years, and from now on, there will be that space,” she said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to go back to that. I really don’t.”
Diane Kruger doesn’t know what it means to be a muse: