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Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

October 24, 2015

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Actors: Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem, Barbara Valentin

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Synopsis: 1970s West Germany. Moroccan immigrant, Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), forms an unlikely romance with ageing German widow, Emmi (Brigitte Mira), when she stumbles across him in a bar one evening. Despite the huge variance in age, ethnicity and social status, Ali and Emmi get married, though the prejudice of society (and the pressure that brings) takes its toll….

Review: This ultra-stylised piece of seventies’ German social commentary from Rainer Werner Fassbinder plays far closer to a form of theatrical experiment than the more naturalised cinema we might readily recognise, but a clear accumulative logic and poignancy evolves from Fassbinder’s fastidious method by the close.

Almost all scenes involve some form of choreographed still-life representation of the different levels of German society disapproving of Ali and Emmi’s union, and even when the drama is actually playing out, Fassbinder favours very unnatural 180 degree turns or jarring dolly shots to re-highlight the stilted reception the couple are getting. Even the acting and scenarios are excessively melodramatic, but again that lends the work its intentional air of theatrical workshop – almost as if Fassbinder is playing on the excesses of the representations to make clear the prejudices in German society.

Just because there’s nothing really like this in contemporary cinema, it can feel rather didactic and distancing, but credit to Fassbinder and his two lead actors – Brigitte Mira and El Hedi ben Salem – for extracting a fair degree of poignancy by the story’s close. (October 2015)

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