Film of the Week: Ali Fear Eats the Soul

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In Ali Fear Eats the Soul, Rainer Fassbinder brings to the fore the social tensions of a post-WWII Germany, rendering it in the everyday lives of the film’s outcast couple, Emmi (Brigitte Mira) a 60-years old German widow and Ali (El Hedi ben Salem) a 40-years old Moroccan immigrant. Despite the language barrier, Emmi and Ali are able to find comfort in their respective otherness, shown no better than the film’s opening when the two meet and dance together in a bar, separated from everyone else. The two become the subjects of abuse from the locals, and when Emmi wishes to rejoin her community and begins to mistreat Ali, the film’s subtle commentary peeks through. At one point, Emmi shows off Ali to a group of friends, and they all take turns admiring the strength of his body. Emmi’s nationality allows her to conform whereas Ali can only ever exist as a fetish object, either shunned because of his looks or gazed at in wonder like a zoo animal. Ultimately, for Ali to be part of the German community he must subject himself to this role, and the process begins with “Ali,” a name given to dark-skinned foreign workers in Germany. Inspired by Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1959) and All that Heaven Allows (1955), Fassbinder exchanges the melodrama in favor for a more poignant atmosphere that runs throughout, enveloping the film in the melancholy of lonely-hearts.

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