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ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, 1974
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ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, 1974  MOVIE POSTERALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, 1974
Movie Reviews

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Starring: Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem, Barbara Valentin, Irm Hermann, Karl Scheydt
Review by Steven Loeb


SYNOPSIS:

Emmi, a woman truly in the second half of life, falls in love with Ali, a Berber guest worker more than ten years younger. When they both decide to marry, everybody seems to be against them. When the folks calm down a bit, Emmi and Ali get deeply unsure about their relationship.

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REVIEW:

Movies are made to evoke a particular response from an audience. Whether it be to shock them or to make them question their own morals, films often lose much of their impact over time, and become relics of another era. Other times, we can only wish it were the case, that the prejudices and fears that people might have had at one point would have gone away. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is a film about racial prejudice which is as powerful today as it was thirty-five years ago, though the subject matter should be far less shocking today than it must have been when it was first made.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is the story of two very different, but equally lonely, people who find unlikely love. Emmi is a widowed cleaning lady in her 60s; her closest friends are her co-workers and neighbors, and she doesn’t see her children very often. Ali, as he is called by his German co-workers because they can’t remember his name, is a Moroccan immigrant who hangs out in a local bar. When Emmi steps in one night to get out of the rain, he asks her to dance. After he walks her home, she invites him into her apartment for the night, and they find they have an instant bond, which quickly becomes a romance. When her landlord tells her that Ali must leave because she isn’t allowed to sublet, she impulsively announces that they are to be married. , Emmi is shunned and verbally abused by her friends and family when they hear the news. The couple goes on vacation and, upon return, they find that many of the people who had disapproved of their relationship before have since come around for various reasons. Her grocer decides he needs her business; her son needs a babysitter. Instead of treating her former detractors as she was once treated, she accepts their newfound hospitality as a sign of acceptance.

The twist of the film is that, once everyone else around them begins to accept their relationship, it is Emmi and Ali who work toward destroying it. Emmi begins to say some of the same things her friends did, in order to fit in with them again, and Ali begins to resent her attempts to assimilate him. In one scene, Emmi invites her friends over, and she welcomes them to feel his muscles, as if he were an object on display. When he expresses displeasure at this, she attributes it to his “foreigner mentality”. She also refuses to make him couscous, instead telling him that he has to eat German food in order to fit in better. This drives him into the arms of another woman, nearly ending their relationship. Ultimately they decide that being together is the most important thing and they can work through whatever problems they might have.

This is a movie about the basic fears and prejudices people have, sometimes without even realizing it. Emmi, despite her seeming openness to things outside her comfort zone, is prejudiced in her own way. The most obvious example of this is how she is ostracized at work, essentially by being ignored by her co-workers. The camera shoots from the side as she sits on the staircase, the bars creating a symbolic prison for her. Later, however, when she returns from her vacation and finds a new foreign girl has replaced one of her friends at work, Emmi treats the new girl exactly as she had been treated. In fact, the girl is shot in exactly the same way that Emmi was earlier, sitting on the steps.

It is also noted multiple times in the film that Emmi was, at one time, a Nazi, as was her father. Right after they are married, she brings Ali to “Hitler’s favorite restaurant”, which she says she had always wanted to try. Her father was so xenophobic, in fact, that he opposed her first marriage because her husband was Polish. After being snubbed and excluded, Emmi later remarks that she can feel everyone staring at her, and bemoans their prejudice, never seeming to grasp the irony of this outrage from someone who had once been a supporter of Hitler. Emmi is as guilty as any other person of being prejudiced; she just does it in a more subtle way.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is a difficult film. It deals with sensitive subject matter, and many of the characters can be quite blunt about how they feel about this unlikely relationship. The film needs to be given a lot of credit for not making the relationship between Ali and Emmi easy in any way. Instead of portraying them as saints, fighting against the evil prejudice of the world, they are human and flawed; more than anything else, what draws them together is loneliness. She seeks companionship; he seeks someone who treats him with respect. In the end, having that hole filled is more important to them than anything else.


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ALI FEAR EATS THE SOUL


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