Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
I first saw Ali: Fear Eats the Soul in college along with 400 Blows as part of a film studies class. At the time I thought it was a good film but I don't remember being particularly moved by it. Fast forward a few years and things have changed. The second time around the film really got to me. This time it blew me away.
The film is by Rainer Werner Fassbinder tells the story of Emmi, frumpy house cleaner in her 50s or 60s who meets and falls in love with Ali, a Moroccan guest worker half her age. They get married and are ostracized by both her family and his old friends. This story is the stuff of melodrama. Fassbinder was obsessed with old American weepies, particularly those by Douglas Sirk. But all the maudlin drama is transformed into honest emotion in this film. In the Hollywood version Emmi would be played by a Joan Crawford or some equally glamorous. She may have grown children but she wouldn't have a single wrinkle on camera. Ali would be played by someone like Rock Hudson in makeup. But here Emmi is played by Brigitte Mira and she looks like a woman in her 60s. She looks like someone's grandmother. Ali is played by Fassbinder's lover at the time, El Hedi ben Salem. He's not ugly but he's not Hollywood leading man either. These people look real. They act real. When they fall in love it feels real. That makes the humor funnier and the heartbreak way more touching.
The story eschews melodrama. The usual villains, the landlord and the police are strangely the most sympathetic to the couple. They represent a younger more accepting generation. The older characters are the ones who have the most problems. I think this is a subtle jab at Germany's Nazi past. It isn't some big secret or lie that disrupts Emmi and Ali's marriage. It's simple social pressure. The friends who shunned Emmi before start to treat her nicely. They haven't changed, they just want something from her. And Emmi has missed her old life and goes along even if that means treating her husband as an oddity. Ali in turn goes back to his old haunts and to his old crew. But the bond between these two is very real and it hurts them both.
This movies has a great visual style. The photography is very realistic. Real locations were used. But the color palate is still very bright and reminiscent of Douglas Sirk's work in the '50s. Scenes are often tightly composed. Fassbinder makes frequent use of doorways to frame a character or group of characters. It symbolizes their isolation very well.
This would be a fantastic template for directors and writers to study. The style is a fine combination of realism and flamboyant style. The writing is an excellent example of a realistic drama.