Friday, July 4, 2008

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Angst essen Seele auf; Drama, Germany, 1974; D: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, S: Brigitte Mira, El Hedi Ben Salem, Barbara Valentin

The 60-year old widow Emmi doesn't want to be alone anymore so she goes into a bar where foreign workers often hang around. Among them is the Moroccan Ali. When his friend jokingly tells him to go dance with the old lady, he actually does. Later on he even accompanies Emmi to her apartment. She is thankful and invites him for a drink and even offers him a place to stay, which he accepts. The unusual couple quickly becomes intimate and discovers their jobs - she is a cleaning woman, he an auto mechanic. After their wedding, she experiences an unpleasant surprise - none of her three children doesn't want to see her again. There are xenophobes even in the neighborhood. After the return from a vacation the couple finally finds acceptance from society. But Emmi is always busy, so he starts an affair with a blonde woman. He then regrets his decision and ends in a hospital with a stomach ulcer.

Despite the intriguing theme about love between an unlikely couple - an old Christian German woman and rather young Muslim Arab - that even got a new context after 9/11, "Fear Eats the Soul" is only a mild and passively, lazily directed melodrama that relies too much on Douglas Sirk's "Imitation of Life". A mild disappointment for the unconventional and talented director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Admittedly, the story has a good calligraphy and creates a hidden ambiguity: is the couple together truly because of love or just because of mutual benefits? El Hedi Ben Salem portrayed the introverted Moroccan Ali surprisingly convincingly and realistically - in the scene where he meet Emmi for the first time in a bar, he tells her: "You are alone. That's not good. Let's go dance" - but the motives of racism and prejudice of the society were presented in a too stereotype way, like when Emmi's colleague tells her: "Now you have to clean the house twice a week because you have more trash".


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