“We’ll be rich, Ali, and we’ll buy ourselves a little piece of heaven.”
‘Ali: Fear Eats the Soul’, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1974, is a German drama focusing on the romance between a 60 year-old German woman and a much younger Moroccan man. Brigitte Mira plays Emmi, a lonely widow who takes shelter in a bar from the rain. There she meets Ali, played by El Hedi ben Salem. They make a connection and, within a short time, Ali moves in with Emmi and marries her. Their relationship brings out the worst in their neighbours, Emmi’s workmates and her family, all of whom treat her as mad, and Ali as a predatory savage. Eventually, the negative reaction of others begins to change their relationship: Emmi becomes colder and starts to treat Ali as an object, whilst Ali takes solace elsewhere in drink and in a love affair with a barmaid. They are finally reconciled, but the effects of drinking and stress have taken their toll on Ali’s health, and in the final scene, Emmi vows to stay with him and protect him. It’s a tight, efficient chamber piece. Less seedy than Fassbinder’s later ‘Satan’s Brew’ and less abstract than ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’, ‘Ali: Fear Eats the Soul’ is an unflinching and simply told story of how bigotry can spread, and how the infection of the Second World War lingers in German society thirty years later. The performances are cold and understated, but this creates a sense of realism rather than distance. Unlike ‘Satan’s Brew’ where the domestic feel of the film merges with a kind of dirty and queasy grimness, here it brings us closer to the couple, so we feel the bite when Ali is abused and the wrench when they are parted. Above all this, Fassbinder’s film is an important social document: this refusal to look away from the darker areas of German society and to dramatise the lives of the marginalised and disenfranchised make this not only an absorbing movie, but a thought provoking one as well.
Would I recommend it? Yes – I’ve been up and down with Fassbinder. ‘Satan’s Brew’ left me cold, the first movie I watched in this ‘project’ that I actively took against. I tried again with ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’ and found it to be alienating, but pleasingly abstract. This movie is the first of his that I’ve actually liked without reservation. Watch in a double bill with ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’ for a rounded Fassbinder experience.