‘Racism, Love, Acceptance, Fear and Rejection’
Ali – Fear Eats the Soul (1974) (aka as Fear Eats the Soul) is a simply made film on most of its production levels and has a story that is easy to describe in a couple of sentences:
A man meets a woman in a bar and a small connection is made, which is crystallized when they bump into each other another time initiating a lovely friendship. A small misunderstanding results in them talking of marriage and they decided to take the plunge. The marriage is then subjected to unwanted interference and condemnation by almost everyone around them.
A few particular details make this a different relationship from that of a lot of people who meet, become friends and get married: Ali is in his thirties and Emmi is in her sixties. Ali is black and Emmi is white. Ali is Moroccan and Emmi is West German. Ali is a guest worker and Emmi is a cleaning lady. These dissimilarities create an environment around them that is destructive and toxic to their relationship. There’s not a great deal to the story in the film but the film shows the nasty side of humanity as they reject people based on their skin colour, their age, their social position or judge them by their looks.
I don’t know how to describe Ali’s character other than to say he is very calm and unflappable to the point where he is too accepting of anything that happens to him. He’s quite separated from his emotions and he often talks about himself in the second or third person. A beautiful, innocently loving relationship is eaten away by the people around them and their prejudices. Ali, who is always Ali, never less, never more, is a leaf on the water, drawn to his next direction by events outside of his control. Due to decisions and attitudes he can’t control, he has no power to change his trajectory.
Emmi’s behaviour changes in the film as she becomes influenced by the racism against her husband and starts to treat him less and less lovingly. Unaware of her own change in attitude and behaviour it drives Ali away from her into the bed of a bartender in the bar where they met. His absences from their apartment grow more frequent. They drift apart. He needs someone accepting of him and finds it in the bartender. Even though she has her own life Ali finds acceptance through sex. Emmi realises her change in behaviour has driven Ali, a dear, gentle, softly-spoken man, who treats women with respect, away. She tries to get him back but he suffers a terrible illness due to a stomach ulcer that has burst open. The film ends without a resolution. He will live, probably, and she is determined to nurse him back to health and be to him what she was at the beginning and should have been the whole time.
All of the most important themes that make up stories that are full of rich explorations of people – characters – in life are dealt with by Fassbinder. It’s a moving film, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes painful, sometimes beautiful, and full of appalling behaviour from selfish people. Ali and Emmi experience the judgment and condemnation and rejection that are universal truths in the world in which we live. Whether we are a kid at school who is bullied, or a country or nation which is bullied – or presided over by a dictator – by other countries, or a race, or people of a particular religion, that is subject to inhuman discrimination and actions, Fassbinder’s message – timely in any era of people trying to live together on this planet – damning such attitudes by exposing this foul behaviour, is brilliantly described and illuminated in his original screenplay.
I would not have thought so hard and so deeply about this film if I’d just watched it on television. I probably would have if I’d seen it at a Festival. More often than not Festival carefully pick the films they show and choose the cream. Fassbinder, through my experience of watching seventeen hours of his filmmaking over a period of ten days, has revealed him to be an intelligent, sensitive, socially aware observer of the downtrodden. Pimps, murderers, the poor, gangsters and prostitutes fill every episode of Berlin Alexanderplatz. Working class, or even worse-off, are people for whom he feels empathy, sympathy and an understanding of the things in life that make them who they are.
There’s a rare intelligence in Fassbinder’s understanding of how many different types of people there are in our lives and how there are few black and white situations in life that count for anything good. In these two Fassbinder films people are sometimes good and sometimes bad. People are even sometimes in equal measure despicable and wonderful. Or generally bad with occasional glimpses of goodness. Or mostly kind, loving, faithful, selfless and calm, with occassional brief, but terribly ugly, lapses. If ever a title of a film summed up mankind using three adjectives it is that the human race consists of the good, the bad and the ugly, and that within one being we consist of the good, the bad and the ugly. How good, how bad, how ugly – that is a matter of degree