Angst Essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul) Reviews
This is why a film like this will forever trump some sanctimonious self-righteous pablum like Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Fassbinder wanted the audience to take away something about German society and its attitude about other races and ethnicities, but he's really after something so much more important, which is, dare I get pretentious here, the human condition. He takes cues from Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Alows, but only loosely, like a musician who knows the notes yet wants to try another rhythm and arrangement. This isn't a glossy movie that relies on subtext, on the contrary everything is out in the open in Fear Eats the Soul, and it's an urban setting with characters in disarray. It may be the most tender of Fassbinder's melodramas.
And things end up happening here that I definitely did not expect. Love comes upon Emmi and Ali rather quickly, as if they weren't expecting it, and it's accentuated in a wonderfully touching moment at night when Emmi is in her nightgown in her room, Ali coming in as an invited guest in order to get out of the rain and stay the night, and she tells him how it is to have someone, to not be lonely. It's such a sad scene that's punctuated by a sense of bliss that seems just within reach. And, again, this is not a story that unfolds with much ease; nobody accepts that Emmi and Ali, after knowing each other for only so long (and, indeed, based on a moment when Emmi has to come up with a quip to keep the landlord away), are married, not least of which her immediate family (this scene is classic Fassbinder, a sense of rage simmering under calm that just erupts without any theatrics with the camera), co-workers, a grocery story clerk, and, for a moment or two, not even Ali himself.
It's such a sad little story that a couple of times I wondered "no, this can't be, Fassbinder can't really be going here", and the style, despite being reliant on the director's proclivity for doing scenes in one take per shot and on a two-week schedule, may inform that some of the acting is not the most professional caliber. No matter. All the raw emotion comes through, with those stares that people have, with so much resentment and ignorance amplified without even saying a word. One such scene that resonates is when Ali and Emmi sit at an outdoor café and about five or six people look on from across the road, just staring, not talking, and it finally brings Emmi to tears. This is not the same kind of "will they or wont they accept us" tale of All That Heaven Allows. This is something much deeper-rooted, not helped by the fact that it's in 1974, two years after the Olympics tragedy in Munich, or the fact of so many were once members of the Nazi party- even kind-hearted Emmi herself.
And, as it should, the film ends with a bittersweet quality that can only come with so assured a filmmaker. We can't be sure of anything with Ali and Emmi, how long people may come around to actually be alright with their marriage let alone see them (i.e. Fassbinder's own lazy louse character married to Emmi's daughter), or if the hypocrites who wouldn't talk to Emmi soon after feel up her husband's muscles, or if they can even stay in their little home or quarter without something else coming their way or if something may tear each other apart (we already get a good taste of that prior to this scene). But they are together, and that's what counts. It's an imperfect but classic film on romance and prejudice, "us" and "them", no punches pulled.
While I don't understand its full purpose yet, I was amazed by Fassbinder's awareness of the frame and putting smaller frames into the frame of the camera. These frames are not always perfect squares, but sometimes doorways to show the action going on in the other room, and I guess all I can say is it seems to speak to the voyeur. Repeated scenes with contrasting ideas/themes are also abound in this film, and these revisited scenes can be so different they can bring tears to the viewer's eyes. What is particularly sad is when the dance at the beginning of the film is redone at the film's conclusion with Ali admitting that he has cheated on his wife.
I like the relationship at the core, but I am unsure what to make of the characters. Ali seems a nice enough man, though he does not have perfect German and his dialogue often lacks the use of verbs. I don't have anything wrong with that, he doesn't fully know German yet, but it shows that even with his wise sayings he still has more to learn. As for Emmi, she is not ashamed to say she was part of Hitler's party and even wishes to go to a restaurant often visited by Hitler. I can totally understand this since this film is speaking from a German perspective, but as my classmates pointed out it is uncomfortable or strange to have a character who connects positively to Hitler.
I hated and loved other characters within this film for their racism and later catharsis, which shows it was able to get to my emotions.