Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul ★★★★★

Sorry, Fassbinder was 29 when he made this?

It's perfect, no matter how imperfect Fassbinder was. This is the first of his pure melodramas I've seen, and I was startled at its kindness. Fear is woven through this, visible on every single character's face, but the title is as much a warning as it is a prediction. It might not be possible for love to overcome fear; then again, it might be. I choose to leave with hope for Ali and Emmi.

That hope sends light retroactively throughout the movie. As time wears on, Emmi's friends and neighbors open back up to her. Or do they? As time wears on, Emmi's friends and neighbors realize they need their day to day transactions with her. Or do they? It's neither and both. Fassbinder didn't settle for easy answers, so it's not going to be as simple as "Germans are racist" or "people are all good under the skin."

"l fail to see anything indecent, hard as l might try. Goodbye!"

Gruber has nothing to gain there; it's just as easy for him to agree that the relationship is indecent and move on. But he says what he says. There's light in this darkness.

Later, in her conversations about the new housekeeper and her objectification of Ali, Emmi shows her own racism. (It's interesting that Brigitte Mira, who plays Emmi, is half-Jewish and that she acted for the Nazis during World War 2.) Fassbinder is fine leaving us with hope as long as he also leaves us with realism. Even cynicism.

All this about the subtext and theme must not detract from how masterful Fassbinder was as a director, or how good the acting is in this. I wasn't expecting a ton from El Hedi ben Salem, given how terrible some of Fassbinder's other lovers have been in other movies. Man, no, both ben Salem and Mira were very good. Like Kaurismäki, Fassbinder knows what to do with faces.

The camerawork, too. Late in the movie there's a scene where Ali is walking down a city street, filmed from far away. Fassbinder has used that technique all through the movie to signify solitude and loneliness. This time, the grey stone of the buildings loom above Ali, making Germany's rejection of immigrants explicit. It's delicate and completely on point and the 29 year old made the whole damn movie in two weeks.

Boofest 2023: connected to Panic in the Streets by anti-immigrant bigotry.

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