Dr. Wostenberg's World of Cinema Reviews: Fear Eats the Soul

Do Not Let the Fear of Love Eat Your Soul A Film Review of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul by Christopher Wostenberg

One of the comments I got from last semester’s survey was, and I quote, “needs more Germans.” I have taken this to mean review a German film. Thinking about that and the theme of love, two movies in my personal collection came to mind Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and Wings of Desire. Both are from the New German Cinema period of the 1960s to the 1980s and are low-budget films emphasizing the human experience, very similar to the French New Wave. The latter is an excellent film about an angel who chooses to become mortal because he has fallen in love with a trapeze artist. If the story sounds familiar, it is probably because the film was remade in the U.S. as City of Angels. But I choose the former due to its realistic depiction of love that goes against societal norms.

The movie takes place in Munich, Germany months after the Munich Massacre where the Palestinian terrorist group Black September killed Israeli Olympic athletes and West German police offices. The story starts with an elderly German cleaning woman named Emmi who walks into a bar, where foreign music is playing, to escape the rain. A young Moroccan worker named Ali is encouraged by the bartender to dance with Emmi. The two form a friendship that buds into a romantic relationship that ultimately leads to marriage. Both Emmi’s and Ali’s friends, family members, and neighbors disapprove of the marriage due the age gap and cultural divide. To avoid persecution, they go on a vacation. Upon their return to Munich, the couple is greeted with outward acceptance because the community benefits from Emmi’s presence and not because the underlining prejudice has gone away. Over time the prejudice of their friends, family members, and neighbors causes Emmi and Ali to treat each other disrespectfully, such as Emmi showing Ali off as an object to her friends to ogle and Ali ignoring Emmi at the bar around his co-workers. When it seems like they are going to break up for good, they meet at the bar, dance, and decide instead to be nicer to each other. Unfortunately, the happy moment is short lived as Ali falls ill with an ulcer caused by the stress of his work. The movie ends with them holding hands at the hospital.

While there are many interesting filming aspects of the movie, I am going to focus my review this time on the story, more specifically the depiction of love. The nature of love is truly mysterious and not easily defined. It is hard to say sometimes why we love the people that we do and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul perfectly demonstrates this idea. Throughout the movie, it is never clear why Emmi and Ali fall in love and how, after all the hardships, they stay in love.

At the beginning of their relationship, Emmi and Ali have nothing in common. There is an age gap of about 30 years. They are from different countries, Germany and Morocco, with vastly different cultures. Emmi even has trouble understanding Ali at first because of his broken German, which is reflected in the title of the film. Even them coming together in first place is partly random and forced. It is random because the rain drives Emmi into the unknown bar playing foreign music. It is forced because the bartender pushed Ali to dance with Emmi. From this brief encounter, the complete strangers become lovers over a period of time. There is no moment in the film where it becomes obvious why either character falls for the other, but it is clear through their interactions that Emmi and Ali do love each other. This is most evident in their moments of silence. The characters are content just being around each other and nothing else is needed but their presence together, not even dialogue.

In the second half of the film, it is clear why both Emmi and Ali are mean to each other. Both no longer want to be outcast. While they love each other, it is not enough; they need people from their own cultures to accept them. Emmi treats Ali like an object and eventually takes on the xenophobic attitudes of her co-workers. Ali sleeps with another woman and no longer defends Emmi. But even when it seems like the two would be better off apart, they come together for another dance leading them to stay together because they truly love each other. The dance symbolizes the rekindling of love as it was dancing that brought them together in the first place. This is part of the mysterious nature of love, which is how we can love someone but at the same time treat them worse than we would treat anyone else. With true love, we let all our guards down. This means showing our lover our true nature, which is not always nice and great to be around. We take out our frustrations and anger from the day on them, while at the same time showering them with our passions and happiness.

At the end of the film, it seems like there is no reason for the two characters to love each other, but we see that they still do through a tender dance and the holding of hands at the hospital. They realize that life without the other person would be unimaginable, so they struggle to stay together. In life, true love is not measured by all the happy moments shared together, but instead how you make it through the bad times still wanting to be together no matter what. Ali and Emmi do just that. In the film, there are more scenes of their hardship, than there are of truly happy moments, much like real life. But even with all the prejudice, rejection, and disease, the two stay together, as one, holding hands awaiting the next hardship.


Emmi announces her marriage to the foreigner Ali to her family who seat in shock. Retrieved from Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, R., 1974, Tango-Film), Scene at 00:44:44

Favorite Scene: For this film, I really like the scene where Emmi announces to her family that she has married Ali. Through complete silence and expressionless faces, Emmi’s family displays a feeling of utter shock. The only real show of emotion in the scene comes when one of Emmi’s sons repeatedly kicks the television set until it breaks. This nicely shows how the movie is much different than Hollywood movies of today. Today, we would expect the family to shout and go ballistic, probably destroying more than the television set. Much like the display of love in the film, the other emotions, like disgust and outrage, are subdued. It is clear what the family thinks about the marriage without dialogue and overly dramatic displays. To me this shows real talent in the acting and directing of the film, while at the same making it more realistic.

In this review, I focused on the melodramatic story of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Many reviews of the film online (hyperlinks provided at the end of the review) focus on the framing of the scenes and its relationship of the characters, Emmi and Ali, being outcast from society due to their love. I highly recommend reading them after seeing the film as complement to my review to get a deeper understanding at the greatest of the film. But, as always, do not let my review or others tell you how to think or feel about a film. Watch it for yourself and make up your own mind about whether you like it or dislike it and why.

The theme of love will continue in my next review, when I look at the modern classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I leave you for now with some words of wisdom about love from the movie Moulin Rouge, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.”


Hyperlinks for online reviews of the film discussing the framing of scenes:

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-ali-fear-eats-the-soul-1974

http://facets.org/blog/exclusive/frame-within-a-frame-an-ali-fear-eats-the-soul-supercut/ https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/fassbinder-s-double-dialectic-the-genius-blocking-and-gest-of-ali-fear-eats-the-soul

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