Wednesday, 2 December 2015

I've Just Seen: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul) (1974)

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Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Fassbinder is one of those male directors who makes interesting films about women. He makes grungier versions of Sirkian melodramas, and Ali works as a riff on Sirk's All That Heaven Allows. For me, this is the second in an unofficical trilogy of Sirk's film, Fassbinder's film, and Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven. All three are about a middle-aged woman re-exerting herself as a sexual being, and finding love with a socially unaccepted partner. Fassbinder adds race onto the class and age divide that Sirk had in his film, as Ali is younger, even poorer than Emmi, and a 'guest worker' in Germany from Morocco.

The copy I watched had been beautifully transferred onto DVD; the colours were vibrant, and the quality of the image was sharp. This was a contrast to the copy of Maria Braun I saw, which was not as sharp, despite being projected on a big screen. Fassbinder has a wonderful eye for framing and staging; the scenes at Emmi's work, where her group of 'friends' isolate one another during lunch were painful, putting you right in the situation of these judgemental people. 

Fassbinder approaches the ideas of gender, class and race with an even-handedness. Emmi is no saint as she befriends and loves Ali; she sometimes treats him as a object to be admired, while also being tender and loving towards him. Ali finds his new role as her husband uncomfortable, and he at times yearns for his old life with his friends.

We are privy to many conversations between Ali and Emmi, allowing us to see their affection and sympathy for each other. They offer each other something they lack, though Ali's friends seem to wonder what Emmi provides (her age and appearance clearly baffle them).

I found Ali: Fear Eats the Soul a moving film about a complex situation. The characters feel like real people, with all their contradictions and failings as well as their capacity for kindness and love. All this is captured beautifully by Fassbinder and cinematographer Jurgen Jurges. Its reputation as a must-see film is well deserved.

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