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Germany 1973/4
Directed by
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
94 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Ali: Fear EatsThe Soul

Fassbinder’s remarkable portrait of 1970s Germany which won the International Critics Prize at Cannes was made in just four weeks when the director was only twenty-eight. A re-working of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955), The film tells the story of the poignant relationship between a middle-aged widowed cleaning lady Emmi (Brigitte Mirra) and Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), a Moroccan immigrant twenty years her junior. Both lonely souls, they fall in love and marry. Their mutual initially sustains them from a tide of disapproval but gradually they succumbing to it.

Although the latter aspect of the film, with Emmi turning on the undeserving Ali, is dealt with in a too summary fashion, the strength of the film is in the direct and simple story which both works against odds, given the unlikeliness of the pairing and also makes some remarkably effective statements about prejudice and hypocrisy with particular reference to German society. Here Fassbinder's slightly abstracted visual style, clearly influenced by Sirk's Expressionist strategies marvellously brings home the message. Thus, for example, the physical configuration of the cleaning women on the staircase is used strikingly to represent their personal and ideological allegiances. Both Mira and Ben Salem had worked with Fassbinder multiple times before (the latter also being the director’s lover) and this perhaps explains the natural empathy of the performances that sweeps the incongruity of the coupling aside and makes the film both a fine romance and a telling insight into human psychology.

FYI: An uncredited Fassbinder plays Emmi’s brutish son-in-law, Eugen.




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