Best Movies of All Time #100: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
There is only a brief period in history where film existed in a world without the impact of the two World Wars, both of which had the nationalism of Germany at the center of the problem. Yet, in the post-WWII world, cinema was eager to forgive in the decades that followed. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul tackles the issues of a racist Germany, showing how old habits appear to never die.
Set in the modern day, Ali is the story of an old German woman who falls for a younger Moroccan man. Though it is heavily inspired by All That Heaven Allows, which focuses on the struggle caused by an age difference in a relationship, that is only a minor issue in Ali, which instead focuses on how people treat the racial differences between the two.
It is an honest love story. Fassbinder was never a director to romanticize details. The two are enamored with each other, but small cultural differences cause strife. She was a member of the Nazi party in her young days. His taste in food is too exotic for her. It’s easy to imagine that they would manage to pull through these differences if it wasn’t for the society that surrounded them. She is made to hate herself for getting involved with a foreigner. Fassbinder’s message is loud and clear; no matter how much they try to apologize, no matter how much they try to make up for it, Germany has never truly gotten rid of its problem with racism.
Yet, where the story is honest and direct, the imagery is touched by film magic. There is an issue of location throughout the film. The woman, Emmi, is used to sitting around with her friends at the apartment she lives in during lunch, but as the relationship gets deeper, she is quickly pushed farther and farther away from the circle. She becomes more of an outsider as the story progresses, and Fassbinder makes her more isolated throughout the film.
Fassbinder is a man that rebelled against the standards of culture, and though the couple in Ali goes through some harsh struggles together, it is their mutual affection for each other that wins out in the end. Emmi is old enough to remember the last time she was swayed to follow the beliefs of the German public. Subtly throughout, a hope emerges that these two will set a standard for those around them, who begin to slowly accept that Emmi’s love is simply another person.
Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is an attack on German’s problem with racism, but it never falls into a story of doom and gloom. He doesn’t offer simply pointed criticisms, but a message that always rings true; people will only get over their prejudices whenever they are exposed to those they so hate. Ali is a call to the people of the world to simply get to know one another. Though it focuses solely on Germany, it is clear that Fassbinder is reaching the issues that plague every part of the globe.