Tuesday, September 9, 2014

588. Angst essen Seele auf/Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Running Time: 93 minutes
Directed By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Main Cast: Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem, Barbara Valentin, Irm Hermann, Rainer Werner Fassbinder


When I watched Fox and His Friends last week, I managed to talk my wife into watching it with me since her goal was to spend the day together and my goal was to watch a movie. It just so happens that she ended up really liking it and thus agreed to watch the other two Fassbinder flicks with me. It's so much easier to watch these things when my wife agrees to do them with me, because otherwise I usually end up waiting until she's asleep. Anyway, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul...

If you've ever seen the film Far From Heaven, then you basically have the plot of "Ali". The film opens in a bar, where an elderly woman, Emmi (Mira), decides to take refuge from a storm, citing that she passes it every night on her way home but has never stopped in. She orders a cola, while some Arab customers eye her from the bar - one of them Ali (Salem), a thirty-something Moroccan living in Germany. On a dare from his friends, Ali asks Emmi to dance and the two chat it up, ending the dance and heading back to her table to finish their conversation. When the time draws late, Ali offers to walk Emmi home and once there, Emmi returns with an offer of her own - "come up for coffee". When Emmi hears that Ali shares a room with five other men, she is aghast and asks Ali to spend the night. Ali accepts. One thing leads to another and two find love for one another, except it's not a love that will come easy. Ali is of Moroccan decent and thus the relationship will have to overcome obstacles of prejudice from friends and relatives. When Emmi's landlord stops in and warns her about having lodgers, she thinks fast and says that Ali isn't just a lodger, but the man she plans to marry. This actually leads to the two getting married and now the racial tension really heats up. First it comes from Emmi's three children (two sons, 1 daughter) and son-in-law (Fassbinder), all of whom can only see the color of Ali's skin and not the smile on their mother's face. One son reacts by kicking in Emmi's television screen and storming out - the others just storm out. Add to the list Emmi's co-workers, neighbors and even the grocer downstaris, of whom Emmi has been a customer of for years and thus the words that appear on the screen at the beginning of the film come true: "happiness isn't always fun".


The thing I think I found the most interesting in regards to this picture is the fact that no one is a saint. Think of all the movies you've seen about racial tension - USUALLY, the oppressed gain all of the audiences sympathy and the oppressors are 100% bad. Sure, that's still true here, but even Ali and Emmi aren't immune to harsh judgement from the audience. At one point, the once happy couple begin to have problems and Ali steps out on Emmi, finding love elsewhere in the arms of a blonde barmaid. One might say that Emmi is completely immune, that she does no wrong in this picture, but just watch as she shows off Ali to her friends, as if he were a brand new washing machine - Ali probably not fully understanding that he's being made to look like just some object. The whole film is really one big downer and Fassbinder wouldn't have it any other way - one of the reasons I've really come to enjoy his work. I've always hated tacked on, sappy endings to movies that yearn to be left on a dreadful note. Fassbinder apparently did to. Look at Fox and His Friends for example, Fassbinder's character left dead in a Subway and poor, poor Petra Von Kant, left utterly and completely alone. Fassbinder had a reputation of being a harsh director and harsh lover and he obviously didn't stop with real life, subjecting his characters to his most brutal harshness.

Emmi, widowed and alone, finally finding someone she can just share a conversation with. I don't think it would've mattered if he was black, white, Cuban or Asian, she was just a lonely old soul who needed someone there when she went home at night, someone to eat breakfast with and ride the tram with. Then you have Ali, somewhat ignorant to the ways of German society and even the language, perhaps taken advantage of by Emmi. Sure, she was putting him up in a decent apartment, but she didn't even ask him if he wanted to get married - simply blurted out to the landlord's son that it WAS happening and then it did. I think eventually he learned to lover her, but at first I got the sense that he was just going along with whatever she said, making an old woman happy. I think it's obvious that he wasn't attracted to her, thus why he stepped out on her for the embrace of Barbara. Yet, what he had with Barbara was just a sexual affair and once astray, he realized that what he had with Emmi was true love. The sexual part of it played second fiddle to the fact that she was kind to him and that their lives needed each other. Perhaps if we were to peer deeper into the future of this couple, Ali will continue to cheat on Emmi, but Emmi will understand. She'll understand that she can't satisfy this young, viril man sexually and know that he'll always come back to her, because she satisfies him in a deeper, more soulful way.

If I had to crack on the film for anything, I'd say that I could've used something different for an ending. I wasn't crazy about the whole ulcer revelation and really didn't get the significance of Emmi sitting by Ali's bedside, crying to end the film. I didn't hate it or anything, I just felt like there was another ending there, a better one. Other than that, it's kind of hard to crack on this movie at all, as so many elements are executed to perfection. I mean, what about that camera work?! I loved how Fassbinder stayed back during many of his shots, keeping a distance, eyeballing his subjects from afar. It made for some mesmerizing visuals, the types of images that you just don't get in your run of the mill motion picture. The acting was fine, as was the plot. The characters were fleshed out and developed and the whole film had an heir of greatness about it - you just felt as if you were watching something that was going to be great. Fassbinder is shaping up to be one of my favorite director's from THE BOOK and it just goes to show that sometimes you just KNOW what you're going to like. I was worried that perhaps I'd waited to long, that perhaps my interest in Fassbinder built up too much that disappointment was inevitable. But, so far, he's living up to everything I expected - maybe even a bit more.

RATING: 9/10  Can't go full monty, just because of that ending that didn't sit 100% well with me, but a '9' is right up there with some of the best movies I've watched all season. We're talking The French Connection, The Conversation, The Night of the Hunter type stuff here. If all goes as planned, I'll be back later with the conclusion to Fassbinder week. Stay tuned...


September 9, 2014  3:58pm


  1. "Shaping up to be one of (your) favourite directors in the book.." Wow! That's impressive...
    I have seen some of his other stuff.. including parts of Berlin Alexandra platz (It was on TV here many, many years ago). I've found him very mixed.. sometimes very tedious, sometimes very meaningful ..and certainly 'rate' him but I'm not sure I'd go that far..
    I'd first seen this on TV... errmmmm probably not all that long after it's release.. and bits had stuck in the mind.. so it was only a couple of years ago I re-watched it for the tick. (I allowed myself a tick for 'previously watched) if I felt I could remember large amounts and felt I'd grasped the meaning (if any).. this warranted a rewatch.

    BTW.. off topic.. Have you been given any news of another new edition? I seem to remember September as a normal release time..
    I'm hoping not.. having got there, including the most recent, current, edition.. I'd rather not be relegated (at least on iCM) to incomplete...

    1. Perhaps I misspoke. I should've said one of my BEST FINDS. I certainly wouldn't rate him higher than say Woody Allen or Alfred Hitchcock. However, he would share company with the likes of Almodovar and Leone, as far as directors who I'd basically seen nothing from going into THE BOOK and now I really like.

      I've heard nothing of a new edition, although I'll certainly look into it. Good point on it usually being September. Now I'm curious myself....I'll get back to you...


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