Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

This is my first trip into the oeuvre of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, with his powerful Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Taking place in Munich, it tells the story of the scandalous relationship between Emmi (Brigitte Mira) and Ali (El Hedi ben Salem). The relationship is scandalous for a couple of reasons, mainly because she is in her 60's, he is about 40. She's German, he's Moroccan. But they share in common that they're nice people. They're also very lonely people. She is long widowed, with kids whose lives she's not an active part of. He's an immigrant mechanic who doesn't speak the best German, and spends his time either working or drinking away his loneliness at the local Arab friendly bar. They find each other by accident almost, as she ducks into the bar to get out of the rain, and he's taunted by some of his fellow Arabs to dance with "the old woman". They do, and immediately connect with each other.

Soon, they're being confronted with all the post-WWII racism that still exists, with many people considering any dark skinned foreigners "filthy swine" and any woman who takes up with them a "whore". These reactions aren't totally unexpected to Emmi and Ali, but they just want to be together because they make each other happy. But society does its best to spit on them and their relationship, even to the point that her 3 children disown her when they find out about it. Emmi says she wishes they were alone in the world just the two of them and didn't have to deal with that behavior. But we see subtly how as their relationship settles a bit, and people start to accept them more, she unconsciously takes on some of the same qualities of others, even at one point showing off Ali's muscles to her friends like he's just an object. And when Ali complains that he'd like Emmi to make him couscous sometimes, she says irritably that she doesn't like couscous and he needs to assimilate into being a German now.

Not knowing anything about Fassbinder's sensibilities, I had no idea where this relationship would go. Is he a romantic? A cynic or fatalist? From what I've now read a bit about him, he seemed to almost consider love a weakness, or at best a distraction. But here, he made a movie about two people coming together out of shared kindness and loneliness, ceding into truly being in love, falling a bit into complacency, and eventually, hopefully, dedication and more love. It's an astounding movie, powerful and striking right to the core. Simply and realistically acted by our two leads who I was really rooting for by the end of it.

This movie definitely makes me want to check out more from Fassbinder, who made something like 40 movies despite dying from a drug overdose at the age of 37, in 1982. Despite being only 29 when he made this movie, it's a remarkably mature and deep work that I'm sure I'll return to many times over the years.

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