Very few audiences in the U.S. (and in many other countries, I would imagine) are familiar with German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Unfortunately, cinephiles and film bloggers are not always exceptions. My first experience with the director was the three-hour, made-for-television, science-fiction mind-bender, World on a Wire, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I reviewed that film during August of last year and I had yet to see another Fassbinder film until this month.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, probably Fassbinder’s most popular work, is a quiet film. The story, which is nearly identical to that of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, examines a German woman, a Berber worker who is probably twenty years younger, and their relationship before and during their marriage. All of the events are told against the backdrop of a Germany tightened by racism against foreigners. When Emmi and Ali marry, their friends and family begin to ignore and reject them, disgusted by the prospect of such a marriage. The entire situation causes tension between all of the characters involved and the situation provides enough drama to keep most viewers intrigued.
Loneliness is a major theme of Fear Eats the Soul. Emmi was a widow living a lonely existence. Undoubtedly, she chooses to marry Ali, among other reasons, in order to diminish her solitude. However, the prejudice that arrives with the marriage eventually increases her isolation from the world even more. When her co-workers shun her and her family refuses to visit, it is one of the movie’s greatest and most tragic ironies: Marriage, which appeared to be Emmi’s rescuer from loneliness, only introduces more sorrow into her life. Such thoughtful realizations greatly contribute to the genuine beauty of the film. Rarely do movies display a deep knowledge of human nature, but Ali: Fear Eats the Soul displays truths and tendencies, fortunate and unfortunate, in the purest manner. Emmi and Ali live in Germany, but their anxieties and passions are universal.
Fear Eats the Soul is an example of master filmmaking because it recognizes that insightful examination of human nature provides extraordinary intrigue and makes for a meaningful cinematic experience. By focusing on the characters and not decorating the film with unnecessary elements, Fassbinder shows wisdom as a director. I don’t usually include detailed plot information in my reviews. Nonetheless, I felt that this film warranted it. I have noticed that there are certain movies that are utterly fascinating, not because of how they tell their stories, but because their simplicity of style and complexity of character often strongly resonates with audiences. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is one example of this timeless form of cinema, along with such classics as The 400 Blows, Bicycle Thieves, and Tokyo Story.