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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 70s Germany won the International Critics Prize at Cannes) was made in just four weeks when the director was only 28. A re-working of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955), Ali tell the story of the poignant relationship between a middle-aged widow and 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 relationship initially sustaining them from a tide of disapproval but gradually 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, its beauty 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 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

DVD Extras: Audio commentary by Mark Freeman, a LaTrobe University academic; A Powerful Political Potential – a 2005 interview in which Todd Haynes discusses Fassbinder, Sirk and the melodrama; Insert essays by Jonathan Rosenblum and Justin Vicari; The original theatrical trailer.

Available from: Madman

 

 

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