Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Rates: * * * *

Why did I watch it? On the classic film watch list I set up with fatiekitz

Link to IMDB page

Emmi is an older German woman, lonely since the death of her husband, largely ignored by her family. Ali is an immigrant worker struggling to get by in a society that views foreigners with aggressive suspicion. The two meet by chance, strike up a friendship, and finally, an unexpected romance.

Fassbinder’s dramatic take on racism in post WWII Germany takes a gentle human story, and sets it alongside a depiction of some ugly social currents. Apart from our main two characters, the rest of the people populating this film are pretty unpleasant; xenophobic and mean spirited at worst, or just greedy and selfish. When they learn of the wedding, Emmi’s family trash her apartment, and refuse to speak to her, while her work colleagues and friends ostrasize her socially.

In the second half, there is a minor shift; after a holiday, Emmi’s friends and family are now more accepting of Ali, and make some efforts towards reconciliation. But here again, they are mostly motivated by self interest; one of Emmi’s sons wants free child care, and her friends want various favours. Ali responds to this superficial acceptance negatively, turning (joylessly) to a former lover.

Based on the Douglas Sirk film ‘All That Heaven Allows’, this is a well made, minimalistic film, that amazingly seems very topical 50 years after it came out. Watching this it is hard not to think: have we made ANY progress? Some of the acting is a little on the basic side, but even this is not always a negative; while the odd scene is clunky, it does also make the world of this film feel feel quite real, and less like an artifical construction.

There is also a very interesting look at how Germans in this era viewed Hitler – more like a celebrity, than anything – that you could spend hours dissecting, just on its own.

The first Fassbinder film I’ve seen, and I am excited to catch a few more.

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