Diane Kruger wasn’t always cinema’s toughest blonde. A former ballerina and fashion model fluent in English, French and German, her early movie roles – Helen of Troy in 2004’s Troy, Dr Abigal Chase in two National Treasure films – didn’t pack much of a punch. Appearing as a German actress turned Allied spy in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 Inglourious Basterds was a big break, but big breaks in Tarantino films don’t always translate into long-term career success. What that film did do for her was let her show off a strength her earlier roles hadn’t asked of her. Once she put that out there, there was no turning back.
Initially Special Forces looks like a fairly typical war story. In it Kruger plays Elsa, a French journalist in Kabul who publishes a story that angers a local Taliban warlord. When she’s captured by his men, the French military sends in a small team of special forces to rescue her – which they manage to do, only their escape is cut off and they’re forced to try and get back to base on foot.
This French drama is a grittily realistic action film with an impressive attention to detail and the constant tension that comes from feeling that anyone could die at any time. The special forces are a well-trained unit, but it’s Elsa’s personal strength that’s the film’s heart.
Time and again she puts herself on the line, whether it’s publishing a story she knows will put herself in danger, refusing to read out a Taliban statement on camera, or dragging herself on beyond her limits to save the men who saved her. They’re not flashy scenes – she doesn’t get to kill anyone – but Kruger’s performance leaves no doubt who the toughest cast member is.
Special Forces airs on SBS World Movies at 8.30pm, Sunday 14 November. Special Forces is streaming at SBS On Demand only until 14 December, so be quick to catch up.
Farewell, My Queen
Farewell, My Queen seems about as far from the deserts of Afghanistan as you can get, and Kruger – now playing Queen Marie Antoinette in the early days of the French Revolution – has a very different challenge on her hands. Lounging in incredible luxury, having fashion magazines read to her in bed by “assistant reader” Sidonie (Léa Seydoux), she’s the symbol of everything that’s rotten in France.
For much of this French-language film (told entirely from Sidonie’s point of view) she’s a figure of pity, a pampered creature whose world is slowly – and then quickly – crumbling around her. Haunted by what’s to come, increasingly consumed by fear, she remains Sidonie’s focus (and ours) while the jewelled world around her fractures. But as the end draws near the Queen shows her true nature with a shocking twist of the knife; Kruger makes the reveal seem perfectly natural, the flip side of coddled royalty. It’s a chilling display, her innate strength twisted into selfish desire.
Farewell, My Queen airs on SBS World Movies at 8.30pm, Sunday 21 November. Farewell, My Queen is streaming at SBS On Demand only till 19 December, so be quick to catch up.
In the Fade
In the Fade is where Kruger’s toughness, and her range in general, really steps into the spotlight. As Katja, a woman whose husband and child are killed by neo-nazis, she’s first shattered by grief then driven to see justice done through the legal system. But when that fails her – in part because her own history of drug use makes her an unreliable witness – she has to decide just how far she’s willing to go to avenge her family.
It’s Kruger’s performance that makes every scene in this German film so shattering. Katja’s grief and despair is palpable; her near-impossible strength in pulling herself together simply to live again is devastating. The story itself is sharply told, but all the surprises come from her as she battles her torment with an intensity that renders every moment here almost painfully raw. The villains here are drawn in broad strokes, but they have to be; Kruger’s performance is so real there’s no room left for anything else.
It’s hardly surprising she won Best Actress at Cannes, nor that she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. Even for an actress known for displaying strength, this is powerful viewing.
In the Fade airs on SBS World Movies at 8.30pm, Sunday 28 November. In the Fade is streaming at SBS On Demand only till 27 December, so be quick to catch up.
Kruger plays a very different (or is she?) symbol of privilege in the French film Disorder. Jessie is the wife of a wealthy businessman, first seen crying in a bedroom during a party. Her husband hires Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts), a traumatised French Special Forces soldier back from Afghanistan to protect her while he’s away. But with Vincent’s PTSD keeping him constantly on edge, are the threats he sees all around – sinister cars, shadowy figures – all in his head?
The focus here in what gradually reveals itself to be a home invasion thriller of sorts is firmly on Vincent. We see and hear the world through his stressed senses, unsure of how much we can trust him. But Jessie is what he’s focused on, a woman in need of protection but who resents it, someone who can show us what he sees in her but also gives us the outside world’s view of him.
Disorder largely avoids the usual action cliches (there’s no overt romance between the pair), but while Vincent is enamoured with her, the connection she develops with him is more grounded. It’s Kruger’s occasionally flinty performance that makes that connection mean something real.
Disorder airs on SBS World Movies at 8.30pm, Sunday 5 December. Disorder is streaming at SBS On Demand only till 3 January 2022, so be quick to catch up.
And then there's The Bridge...
Kruger plays another strong women in the US version of hugely popular Danish drama The Bridge. While the original (all four seasons are streaming at SBS on Demand) follows investigarions by a brilliant but emotionally detached Swedish police detective into a series of murders on the border between Sweden and Denmark, in the USA version Kruger is Sonya Cross, a detective from the El Paso police department. A dead body is found on the bridge connecting the USA and Mexico, forcing Cross to work with her Mexican counterpart, Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir), to catch a serial killer operating on both sides of the border.
Both seasons of The Bridge (USA) are streaming at SBS On Demand:
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