How 'In the Fade' DP Rainer Klaussman Filmed the Heart of Human Tragedy
The cinematographer knew the only way to capture challenging subject matter was to work with a team he trusted.
If you had to diagram Turkish director Fatih Akin's new film, you might draw an inverse triangle gradually narrowing to a very sharp point. In In the Fade, Katja (Diane Kruger) has a seemingly happy life with her husband and child in Hamburg, Germany. When the film opens, she's left their son at her husband's workplace, planning to meet up later. When she returns, she finds her family has been killed in a bombing attack. The suspects are neo-Nazis.
Going from a courtroom trial to her final resolution of the wrongdoing, this harrowing film traces Katje's process of dealing with loss. Rainer Klaussman's intensely dynamic cinematography pushes us along throughout, moving toward a radical conclusion that never loses sight of the film's heroine. Katja's plight is excruciatingly clear, and our visual experience of the film makes it easy, even compulsory, to feel for her as she takes judgment into her own hands.
Frequent collaborators, Klaussman has worked with Akin on several past films, and he sat down with No Film School to detail the experience of working on their latest.
No Film School: Could you talk about your working relationship with Faith Akin, in terms of developing the cinematic side of the film?
Rainer Klaussman: I’ve known him for 15 years now. This is my seventh or eighth film with him, and he’s a good friend of mine.
NFS: Is there any kind of brainstorming that takes place while planning a shoot?
Klaussman: Fatih always has a lot of stories in his mind, so he tells me all of them and thinks about what he would like to do first, one or two years before the film starts. Then he writes his first script, gives it to me, and I read it. We talk about what we’d like to do, and we do it. We look at a lot of films beforehand, and then we talk about every step involved in filming the script. We know each other so well that we’re always talking about these things.
"We had to make the colors more warm, more lifelike, but not too much, not like a commercial for Greece."
NFS: Could you say a little bit about how the palate of the film developed? After watching it, I tend to divide it in large sections; there’s the first two parts, involving the crime and a more standard courtroom drama, and then there’s the last part, with an emphasis on solitude and grief. It did seem to me in the first part that there are more dark greens and blues and grays, and then things brighten somewhat as the film goes on.
Klaussman: If you get the script, and you see there’s a first part, a second part, and a third part, then you know you have to do each part differently. Otherwise it’s boring. We did the first part a little dirty—it was shot in a super-16 mode. The second part is in the court, which is the same all over the world, so clean, the same light, the people in the same places, never changing. You have to notice everything they’re saying, and so there can’t be too much action with the camera. With the third part, we had to make the colors more warm, more lifelike, but not too much, not like a commercial for Greece. In the movie, that’s probably the nicest part, just looking at the colors.
NFS: The third part has a very different mood than the first two parts of the film. The first two are very engrossing, but I wouldn’t say they were suspenseful; the third part is very personal and very suspenseful. How was that accounted for in the cinematography? How did that change the way you shot it?
Klaussman: Fatih is very, very clever with optical things. We talked in advance about what would be best for the third part—if we should do it fast, or slow, or in a special way. We decided that we should do that part in a, let’s say, “normal” way, or nice way, but always from the point of view of Katja, so that we know what’s going on with her and we know when she has ultimately changed her mind.
NFS: Katja is a very vulnerable character, even though she has a very tough affect. I was wondering how you worked to communicate that visually...
Klaussman: Well, you’d have to ask her, because, finally, she’s a really good actor. She was always with us. If we were shooting a big scene, then she knew exactly what to do, how to set a mood that’s right for the movie. When everything worked together and we were feeling what was happening in the scene, then we could also feel if it was right or wrong.
NFS: So there’s a lot of collaboration, not just between you and the director, but also with the actors. I wanted to ask you, because a lot of the other films you’ve worked on have been about characters in certain degrees of psychological extremity, how do you convey that on film? For instance, how do you deal with the intensity of the Nazi characters in this film as opposed to the intensity of Katja’s grief and rage?
Klaussman: It’s difficult to say, because if the script is good, and the story is a good story, you get a lot of ideas about ways you can do it. I tend to go with my belly and not so much with my head. It comes out as it comes out, but I can’t tell you exactly how it happens. If the script is good, and the director is good, and the actor is good, then it just happens, and you know what you have to do. I’m not such a technical “freak." With me, it’s always a little bit of brain and a lot of belly. I never went to film school myself, so I like the title of your magazine! (laughs)
"While I'm not involved in the editing, when the film is finished, I might say, “I like this” or “Why did you do it that way?'"
NFS: How long did the film take to shoot?
Klaussman: I think it was 40 days or so. Fatih is his own producer, so you always get the time you need. There’s never really any discussions of time limits, which is really the best situation you could have.
NFS: Did that 40 days include the editing?
Klaussman: No, just the shooting. You always need a lot of time to edit—the film is always on the editing table. The editor is an old friend of Fatih’s; they’ve worked together for 20 years. This crew, in fact, has worked together for 15 years.
NFS: Are you at all involved in the editing process?
Klaussman: No, not the editing. When it’s finished, I might go and say, “I like this” or “Why did you do it that this way,” but I’ve known this editor for 15 years, and he knows the way I work. There aren’t really any issues there.
NFS: What would you say the challenges were in working on this particular film?
Klaussman: The challenge was to tell this very difficult story in a way that made it believable, that made you understand why the mother would act this way, and do these things—to really go with the character.
NFS: Yes—the film has a very pared-down, spare quality, and it seems very much focused on one person; there are rarely other figures in the frame besides Katja. Was that intentional or did it simply make the most visual sense?
Klaussman: The film was in the script. But then you have to find the right pictures and the right framing to translate the whole script. This was one area where it was great to work with Fatih, because his mind is so quick. If you follow the story, and you follow the script, and you follow your belly, then from day-to-day it grows easier and easier.
In the Fade is currently in theaters and available on most VOD platforms.