My second Rainer Werner Fassbinder film, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is said to have been directly inspired by Douglas Sirk’s melodramas, so much so that Todd Haynes would later incorporate some of Fassbinder’s work here into his own love letter to Sirk’s films, Far From Heaven. I went into this mostly with that in mind, expecting something akin to what Maria Braun was, but with slightly less marketability. I ended up unsure exactly where all the comparisons to Sirk were coming from, as the film I had just seen had very little of the passion and the “melo” of melodrama that so typified Sirk’s work.
Emmi is an old German widow, living in a region of Germany that seems to be rife with foreign workers, mostly Arabic. Ducking into a bar to avoid the rain one night, she meets one of them, known as Ali, who is actually dared to ask Emmi to dance with him as a joke. They end up hitting it off, so much so that after a brief relationship, they end up getting married. And it is here that the rest of the film comes in, as all the other people in Emmi’s life (and a few in Ali’s) look upon their relationship with vile disgust and racial prejudice, which forms a never-ending stream of conflict for the film to use, until it finally utilizes a climactic plot development to bring the film to a close. I hope I can be forgiven for my somewhat flippant attitude toward the way the film tells its story, but there was a consistent problem with the way the story was told here, and it’s one I’ve run into a number of times with films from the list. Certain films don’t seem to have any forward progression to their narrative, so instead the films basically shove the plot forward into its various stages to keep the film going. This problem showed up once again here; Ali and Emmi don’t really fall in love, they just have one protracted interaction one night, and then suddenly they are in love. Later in the film, Emmi, in an attempt to keep the recent good favor shown to her by the people around her, starts to adopt the anti-foreigner mannerisms and prejudices that plague all of their behavior, but there’s no impetus for this; it just happens because the plot says it is supposed to. I will say, however, that even with this constant annoyance, there was a silent appreciation for this film that wouldn’t go away; I did like it, even though there were recurring problems with it. Speaking of recurring problems, heads up on the overdubbing; it was noticeable a lot of the time.
I’ve heard the argument that Rainer Werner Fassbinder is a little too cold a director for the films he makes, films that are supposedly all about relationships and the apparent warmth they bring. Watching this film, I got what these people were saying; there is a disconnected aloofness to the proceedings in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul that adds to the lack of overt melodrama, which all combined was what got me questioning the link to Douglas Sirk that so many others were making. Still, like I said in my notes, even with the flaws that I found in this one, I still somehow managed to like it, almost inexplicably so. From what I’ve gathered, however, I’ve only seen the two more mainstream and relatable of Fassbinder’s list films, so there’s still quite a bit of opinion to be had on the director.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10