Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)


The Bar Scene

At first glance, I had no idea what to expect from this German film from the much-celebrated Fassbinder. The title is foreboding and seemed extraordinarily dark and depressing. What I found was a film that wasn’t exactly depressing but it had a lot to say about race relations in post-war and post-Munich Germany. It features a cleaning-woman named Emmi (Brigitte Mira) who lives by herself and is consistently alone. Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), the Moroccan man who is trying to make his way in Germany, is dared to dance with her at a bar – which starts their careful and understandably hard love affair.

Supremely tight framing!

I haven’t seen any of Fassbinder’s films but the way he frames shots is absolutely stunning. During the scene above, Emmi has just invited Ali inside for some brandy and coffee. The framing not only allows for some intimacy between the two, but shows the racist German attitude against their relationship and the forces trying to squeeze the life out of them from the start.

The way Fassbinder presents these characters and how they project themselves isn’t so much in their speech but in their body language and the way the environment works with them. Often, there are moments where there is intense silence, but the way that the body is presented and the way that the environment is created around them provides far more information than anything that the character could say.

Emmi on the Stairs

Perhaps my favorite instance of his framing is the scene when Emmi is eating lunch with her coworkers. They are gossiping about something or other and she is sitting on the stairs. They are clearly away from her and she asks them for a knife, which they ignore. They go down the stairs to where she is staring in the image above. The vertical objects in this scene, along with the trapped appearance of the banister against Emmi, suggest so many things that are better described visually than with any monologue.

In so many words, this film is very much worth watching. Beautifully shot and wonderfully acted.