English Title: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Country: West Germany
Language: German, Arabic
Director/Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cinematography: Jürgen Jürges
El Hedi ben Salem
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Doubtlessly this film is one of Fassbinder’s greatest masterpieces, a spontaneous love story between Emmi (Mira), a 60-something German cleaning lady and Ali (Salem), a much younger Moroccan immigrant, and how they cope with the profuse prejudice from the people around them in light of color, ethnicity and age. What’s more essential, the implosion between them.
Stunningly shot with a touch of campy aesthetics and obsessively rendered the characters in tableaux vivants which linger conspicuously longer than standard, Fassbinder deploys theatrics to its uppermost stylishness, ever since the opening scene, Emmi stumbles into the Arabic bar whiling hiding from a sudden shower, she has been put under the gaze and examination of others because she dares to stride into the unfamiliar surroundings and doesn’t get cold-feet.
In this loneliness club, Ali accepts a challenge from a fellow girl to invite Emmi for a dance, the distance is dissolved immediately between these two strangers, he escorts her home, after a tentative conversation and the caring line “a mother should never be alone”, Emmi invites him in and after a magnificent night, Emmi realizes she is in love. The second night is brilliantly depicted too, Emmi goes to the bar and hopes to meet Ali, while he has been waiting downstairs at Emmi’s, from Emmi’s prospective, the sudden jolt from disappointment to rejoicing is engagingly palpable.
One might find Emmi is a naive old granny, conveniently Fassbinder interpolates the gossip talk among Emmi and her fellow cleaners about the local women who marry immigrants, Emmi’s keen defense for them sounds feeble towards other’s loathsome curses and utter abomination. So it predestines Emmi’s future. However, Emmi is much more braver, they get married anyway and stick together to face the malice from her family, her co-workers and their neighbors. But Fassbinder is savvy enough to show us that no one can go through such condition unscathed, we are social animals, after Emmi’s heart-breaking confession in a public café, they decide to take a break from it and go for a holiday since time is the “remedy” to all the trivial tidbits.
Surely, as if a miracle has occurred, when they return, everyone opens up to them due to various reasons (for the racist grocery owner, he doesn’t want to lose a loyal patron, for the nosy neighbour, she needs some help from Emmi’s spacious basement room, for Emmi’s son, it is imperative to get the permission of Emmi to take care of his son and mostly ironically, are the co-workers, they simply find another target to ostracize so Emmi is back to the groups automatically.
When the external environment ameliorates, comes the more fatal inward contradiction, at first, we cannot grasp whether Ali has his an ulterior motive to go along with this marriage, and on the surface, one cannot blame Emmi for being negligence, she objectifies and flaunts his masculinity in front of her friends, complains that he should get accustomed to German food and refuses to cook him some couscous, all those are kitchen-sink foibles every one more or less possesses. Still, this is the most challenging barrier a relationship, Ali is a simple man, so he finds solace in the voluptuous bar owner (Valentin) and makes a stab in card games. Mercifully, the downturn is halted near the coda during a dance, which comfortingly complements the beginning how they open up to each other, Ali reveals his own feeling and in the final scenes, Ali is diagnosed with gastric perforation, the doctor knowingly mentions it cannot be cured and it will recur in every six-month, my take is that it indicates the title perfect, fear is recurrent, and nothing can cure fear, but Emii confidently replies, she will do her best to take care of him, the man she truly loves and vice versa. We all need the support of the one we love to conquer the darkness in our souls, what a rosy and reassuring ending, very unusual among Fassbinder’s works.
Mira gives a tour-de-force embodiment in this film, so expressive and mesmerizing in a beautifully written role for an actress of certain age, Her gutsy-to-vulnerable emotional arc is confidently conduced with the actress’s multi-layered flair and dedication. Salem, is another story, whose tragic real-life background is quite shocking, as Fassbinder’s lover at then, he is more subdued in his character development, but counterbalances Mira’s uncomely semblance with his beefy rawness, the exotic allure is pervasive and intoxicating. Barbara Valentin, the German Jayne Mansfield, is a cult symbol in Fassbinder’s cinema and a gay icon in real life.
Stripped-down with no accompanying scores, the film stands the test of time and establishes himself as an outstanding allegory of a universal norm of love, and Fassbinder’s sleight of hand again overhauls its unsightly locale with astounding style and abiding luster, a must-see for everyone!