We‘re inside a prison and a man in a white suit is marching along one of those metal corridors we remember from Porridge. He is tall, has long hair and a beard, and is dark skinned. He goes through to a room where a woman with dyed blonde hair is waiting for him in a white dress. The wedding ceremony may begin. This is Nuri and Katja. He is Kurdish, and is serving a sentence for dealing. She is German, and met him when he sold her cannabis at college.
Cut to: an office in Hamburg’s Turkish quarter. Nuri is now straight and has set up a company giving tax advice and translation. Katja does his bookkeeping when she’s not being a full time mother. She is just dropping off their son Rocco, before going to a sauna with her pregnant friend Birgit. As Katja leaves the office, she notices that a young woman hasn’t locked her new bike up. She says that bikes get stolen round here, but the woman runs off.
After the sauna, Katja returns to pick up Nuri and Rocco. The area has been cordoned off, and the police aren’t keen on letting Katja through. It turns out that an office has been nail bombed and a man and child have been killed. As Katja tries to rush to her husband’s office, the policepeople wrest her to the ground.
In case you hadn’t guessed, Nuri and Rocco are the victims of the attack. Katja thinks it must have been Nazis, but the police have different ideas. Kommissar Fischer seems friendly and helpful, but then starts asking inappropriate questions about Katja’s dead husband. He was Kurdish, wasn’t he? And a drug dealer? Surely he must have been the victim of a revenge attack by political or commercial rivals.
Katja tells the police about the woman with the bike and they draw up a picture of what she looked like. But even though Katja explains that she was “as German as I am”, news reports explain that the police were looking for an Eastern European woman. Heaven forfend that a German could be responsible for this terror.
Quite understandably, Katja loses it. She asks her lawyer Danilo for some drugs, and he lets her have some which were presents from clients. The next day the police, still convinced that Nuri was somehow responsible for his own death, raid the house. They find the drugs, and Katja is charged with possession.
We now see Katja in the bath. Something is strange – ah yes, she is still wearing her underwear. The camera pans to her bleeding wrists. As she is just about to give in to death, the phone rings. On the answerphone we hear Danilo saying that the police have caught and charged two Neonazis, Edda and André Möller, for Nuri’s murder. It is on.
The film is structured into 3 acts – Family, Justice and Sea. Between each act, we see old home movies of Nuri and Rocco. The second act is about the court case. There is no doubt that the Möllers are Nazis. Even André’s father testifies that his son was a follower of Adolf Hitler. All the ingredients of the nail bomb are found in his shed, and Edda’s and André’s fingerprints are on the bomb.
But its not just about boring court procedure. We listen, with Katja, to the forensic evidence of exactly how much a nail bomb can damage its young victim. It is excruciating, but at least we feel sure that the perpetrators will be suitably punished, even if their arrogant lawyer relentlessly attacks Katja and Nuri and tries to put them on trial.
Then a surprize witness arrives – Nico, a Greek hotel owner who claims that the Möllers were staying with him at the time of the bombing. Although it is proved that Nico was a member of the Greek Nazi organisation Golden Dawn and had facebook connections with the Möllers, this is sufficient to get them let off on the basis of reasonable doubt (I don’t think this is a plot spoiler, as this is kind of what the film is about).
Act 3 is in Greece, where Katja tries to track her husband’s murderers down. After Edda and André were awarded costs for their time awaiting trial, they post a facebook photo with Nico, smugly celebrating their “holiday paid for the German state”. Despite endless unanswered calls from Danilo and occasional changes of heart, Katja goes in search of retribution.
Aus dem Nichts is already a couple of years old, and is being shown at that strange period after the Berlinale when some cinemas are still waiting for next week’s programme. When it was made, after the trial of the National Socialist Underground Nazis – who killed nine immigrants with state support – it was felt that the film had found its time. After the Hanau killings, it is suddenly very relevant to today’s Germany.
In case you missed it, here’s what has just happened. A gunman in Hanau entered 2 shisha bars killing 9 darker skinned people before going home and killing his mother and himself. As is their wont, the press ran stories about a “lone wolf”. Politicians, who until recently have been spreading unnecessary panic about fictitious “clan criminality” in shisha bars, expressed no idea of how this could possibly happen.
In its insistence that racist terror does not come from nowhere, Aus dem Nichts is more pertinent than ever. More than that, by including Golden Dawn, director Fatih Akin shows that this is not just a German problem. At the time the film was made, Golden Dawn was still represented in parliament. As a result of sterling work by Greek antifascists, they are now out of office and their leaders have been prosecuted for ordering the murders of migrants.
Back to the film. Diane Kruger is compelling as Katja, but the casting is universally terrific. Everyone, even the minor characters, look exactly as they should. Even the music, from one Joshua Homme, to the final plaintiff song by Lykke Li, hits the mood exactly. Some British and US-American reviews that I’ve read didn’t seem to get it. Don’t believe them. This is a superb film, and one of Akin’s best.