Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul.

Following nearly a year spent working on TV series; TV films and theatre Rainer Werner Fassbinder made what is now regarded as one of his most critically acclaimed and best-loved works and one which won the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Fear Eats The Soul (1974) is basically a simple story involving a North African 'gastarbeiter' who gets romantically involved with a much older woman. But what we really get is a study of racial and sexual attitudes that have not really changed much over the years. In fact RWF sets out to prove two things, happiness is not always fun and love gives you the strength to rise above everything - did the director succeed and does happiness lie outside of society? I think that is up to viewers to decide for themselves, and at the same time ask the question: does any generation actually learn from its past sins?

Emmi, the wonderful Brigitte Miral, is a widowed hard working cleaning lady in her sixties who has three grown up children. When she takes shelter from a rainstorm in a local bar frequented by Moroccan immigrants she meets Ali (El Hedi Ben Salem) who is in his thirties. Egged on by his friends Ali asked Emmi to dance and immediately this lonely pair have feelings for one another. Shortly after this first encounter they get married.
Will outside pressures spoil the happiness of the couple?
This simple act of companionship leads to outrage from her family, her friends and her work colleagues that RWF brilliantly relates on the screen. The most moving and outrages scene is when Emmi calls for a meeting with her children and son in law (played by Fassbinder) to introduce her new husband. The aggression shown by her family is bigotry displayed at its very worst. We also witness open racism from a local shopkeeper, how she is sent to Coventry by work mates that have known her for years and the ignorant folk she shares her apartment block with. This relentless barrage eventually gets to her and the married couple decide to go away on holiday together hoping that things would have changed by their return. Things do change but not quite in the way that Emmi envisaged.
Emmi and ....

.... and Ali.

Allegedly based on the premise of the Douglas Sirk film All That Heaven Allows (1955) which is about a love affair between an affluent widow (Jane Wyman) and her much younger gardener (Rock Hudson) again much to the disgust of her family and friends. Fassbinder used this as the basis of his script but introduced a wider age gap and the racial element making it an all round stronger and more poignant story line.  RWF had previously used a similar story to Fear Eats The Soul in The American Soldier (1970) in which the chambermaid’s story involves our two main characters.

RWF is well known for writing his scripts with a cast in mind adjusting the characters to fit the actor who plays the part, which I suspect is similar to what Ken Loach does when casting his films.  Therefore we get a sense of character realism.  According to Viola Shafiks documentary My Name is Not Ali (2011), that forms part of the Blu-Ray release of the film, El Hedi Ben Salem m'Barek Mohammed Mustafa, actually the actor’s real name virtually plays himself. She also tells us that he first met Fassbinder in a Parisian cafe in 1972 and shortly after become his lover. But as with Fassbinder's relationships did not end well hanging himself in a French prison cell in 1977 after receiving a sentence for stabbing three people in a fit of rage in a Berlin bar shortly after he finished making Fear Eats The Soul. The 1982 film Querelle was dedicated to the director’s former lover.

An interview with DOP Juergen Jurges reveal's that after three weeks of meticulous planning the movie was shot in between13 to 15 weeks on a very limited budget of 260000 DM. Which in no way detracts from the genius of the auteur's direction. The truth of this movie, as I have mentioned previously, is how relevant this film is today. With a kerb on migrants coming to live and work in the UK being the main reason given by the English for wanting the leave the EU. Are we going to improve our attitudes? Its certainly doubtful with the surge in popularity of right wing politics across the world, the election of Donald Trump in America and English media employing openly bigoted people like Nigel Farage on LBC radio and Katie Hopkins a columnist in The Sun newspaper who described migrants as "cockroaches" and "feral humans" and no mankind never learns from its past sins.  

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