Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Emmi, a German woman in her mid-sixties, falls in love with Ali, a Moroccan immigrant worker around twenty-five years younger. When they abruptly decide to marry, everyone around them seems appalled. When the folks calm down a bit, Emmi and Ali's relationship grows uncertain.

  • An almost accidental romance is kindled between a German woman in her mid-sixties and a Moroccan migrant worker around twenty-five years younger. They abruptly decide to marry, appalling everyone around them.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • An older German woman named Emmi (Brigitte Mira) enters an Arabic bar in Germany. The patrons all stare at her as she sits at the nearest table. The bartender (Barbara Valentin) walks over and Emmi explains how she needed to get out of the rain, and asks about the foreign music playing. The bartender tells her that it is Arabic music. Emmi notices that the patrons are mostly Arabic, and proceeds to order a cola. A brunette woman picks a song on the jukebox and suggests that Ali (El Hedi ben Salem) dances with Emmi. As they dance Emmi finds out that Ali is from Morocco and works as a mechanic. He says that he spends most of his time in that bar since Germans do not seem to treat Arabs very well. The whole bar watches as they talk and dance together. At the end of the song Ali and Emmi sit down at her table. Ali pays for Emmis drink and introduces himself. He tells her that everyone calls him Ali. Then Emmi needs to leave Ali offers to walk her home. The whole bar watches as the couple leaves.

    They arrive at Emmis apartment building and talk for awhile in the lobby. Ali asks her what she does for work, and she reluctantly tells him that she is a cleaning woman. He does not judge her and listens as she talks about her work. She realizes how nice it is to talk to someone, since she is alone most of the time. Emmi invites Ali up to her apartment to have coffee until the rain stops. As they walk up the stairs Emmi is stopped by her neighbor Mrs. Karges (Elma Karlowa) to pay her some money she owes her. As they continue up the stairs Mrs. Karges runs to tell another neighbor that Emmi has gone upstairs with a foreigner. They are disgusted by the idea of such a match.

    The next scene begins with Ali having a coffee with Emmi in her kitchen. As she gets the brandy she tells him that her husband was a polish worker who stayed in Germany after the war. Her family did not approve since he was a foreigner. She asks about Alis family and he tells her that his parents are dead and that he has five sisters. He tells Emmi he needs to leave but she asks him to stay for another drink. Ali needs to leave or he will miss the last tram of the night. He lives far away and shares a room with five other men. Emmi says that is inhuman, but Ali says that Arabs are not humans in Germany. Emmi decides to invite him over for the night.

    Ali cannot sleep and asks Emmi if he can talk with her for awhile in her room. He tells how lonely he is, and that maybe he isnt human at all. Emmi comforts him and tells him that that simply isnt true.

    The next morning Emmi wakes up to find Ali in her bed. At first she cannot believe what has happened and hurriedly leaves the room. She looks at herself in the bathroom mirror, and Ali finds her with tears running down her face. All she sees is her old age, but Ali does not see it. They look at each other and embrace each other. Next Emmi and Ali have breakfast together before they set off for work. She calls herself an old woman, but Ali does not see her as one. He sees her as a good person with a big heart. Emmi is so happy but she starts to cry out of fear. Ali tells her that fear isnt good, that it eats the soul. The two go downstairs together and part ways while Mrs. Karges watches from upstairs.

    Later that day Emmi is on her lunch break at work. As she eats with her co-workers they get on the topic of foreigners and how they all they care about is money and sex. Emmi tries to defend foreigners but it is obvious that these women will not change their minds about them. They think that a woman should die of shame if she were to ever become involved with such a man.

    Next Emmi goes to visit her daughter Krista (Irm Hermann) and her husband Eugen (Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Eugen is home from work on sick leave, and he and Krista keep bickering in front of Emmi. She changes the subject by asking about foreign workers at Eugens job. This upsets him greatly and he barks at his wife to get his cigarettes. Emmi then proclaims she has fallen in love with a Moroccan who is at least 20 years younger than her. Krista and Eugen think she is joking and laugh. She tells them it is no joke and leaves the apartment, but they still do not take her seriously. The whole idea is too unbelievable to be true.

    That evening Emmi returns to the bar where she met Ali the night before. She sits at the same table and orders a cola. The bartender brings her the drink and states that it isnt raining. She makes it abundantly clear that it was her bar and that Emmi was not welcome in it. Emmi sits there in hopes of running into Ali. She quickly leaves the bar and walks home, where she finds Ali waiting for her outside. They greet each other and go upstairs together.

    Next we see Emmi and Ali eating together in Emmis kitchen. As Emmi clears the table and gets them coffee Ali tells her that he has money to give her. He wants to pay her back for all the food and drinks she has provided. Emmi thinks that money will spoil their friendship and says she will put the money in a drawer for him when he needs it. Ali wants Emmi to take the money but she utterly refuses. They are then interrupted by Mr. Gruber (Marquard Bohm), the landlords son. Gruber comes by to tell her that she is not allowed to sublet to others and that Ali must move out. Emmi panics and tells him that Ali is not renting from her but they are actually getting married. Since that is the case the matter is resolved, or so Gruber thinks. Once he leaves Emmi tells Ali what she has done, and he thinks it is a good idea. He agrees to marry her and they have a drink before telling the news to his Arab buddies.

    Emmi and Ali go to the bar and celebrate their engagement with his friends. The brunette that was at the bar in the beginning of the film appears again and she is disgusted by the news. She calls Emmi is a filthy old whore, which then the bartender points out her jealousy. Emmi puts on a song on the jukebox and she and Ali dance to it. The other woman says that it will never work out because it is so unnatural.

    The next scene begins with Emmi and Ali leaving the courthouse where they have just gotten married. It is only the two of them and they are both dressed in grey suits, and Emmi has a bouquet of red flowers. As they walk together Emmi points out how long her new name is. She is now Emanuela ben Salem MBarek Mohammed Mustapha. She thinks it sounds terrific. They stop at a phone booth where Emmi calls her daughter Krista. She invites her and her two sons over to her house next Saturday. When Krista asks her why Emmi tells her theres no special reason. Emmi sees a taxi and tells Ali to stop it.

    The taxi then takes them to a restaurant called Osteria Italiana. It is where Hitler used to eat and Emmi had always wanted to eat there. The entire restaurant is empty except for the two of them and the waiter who is staring at them from the doorway. Emmi suggests they order the most expensive things on the menu, since it is such a special day. Ali says he will eat whatever she eats. She calls the waiter over and orders their food. The waiter asks her how she would like the Chateaubriand prepared. She is confused about the question, so the waiter asks if she wants it rare or medium. She tells him rare sounds good. Then she changes her mind once the waiter explains that rare means almost raw. The waiter then asks if they would like an aperitif to start with. Emmi is not sure which one to ask for, so the waiter recommends the house aperitif. After the waiter walks away Emmi says how he really had her on the rack there and it can be difficult if you are not used to things like that. The couple stares at each other and then they both stare forward. The scene ends with them looking ahead through the doorway.

    Emmis children have come over to her house at her request. Albert, Bruno, Krista and her husband are all sitting in the living room waiting for Emmis announcement. They are all curious as to why she has asked them there, and one of her sons asks if she is ill. Emmi tells them she is not ill but has gotten married. They are all shocked. They ask who she has married, so she calls Ali into the room. She introduces him to the children, who all stare at them with blank expressions on their faces. The room is silent until Bruno walks over to the television and kicks in the glass. He storms out of the apartment and Krista goes after him. Albert stands and tells Emmi that their marriage is a disgrace. She can forget that she has any children, and that he will have nothing to do with a whore. Krista comes back and tells her husband that they are living this pigsty. Once they leave Emmi breaks down into tears.

    Next Ali is at the local store trying to buy some Libelle margarine. The store owner (Walter Sedlmayr) keeps giving him lemonade even though Ali repeatedly tells him like butter, not lemonade. The owner barks at him to learn German and that he cannot help him. Adele (Doris Mattes) comes out and asks him what Ali wants. He tells her that he wants Libelle, which she says is the new margarine. The owner does in fact know what Ali wanted, but he just refuses to help him. Ali leaves the store.

    Ali comes home and tells Emmi what has happened. She knows that the owner understood Ali and just didnt want to serve him. She has been a customer at that store for twenty years and is furious. Ali says not to fight, that fighting isnt good. Emmi leaves the apartment to have a word with the shopkeeper.

    Emmi arrives at the store and Mr. Angermeyer why he wont serve her husband. He says that he couldnt understand what Ali was saying. She tells him that Ali asked for Libelle margarine. He pretends that he didnt know thats what Ali wanted. Emmi knew he understood him perfectly but he just didnt want to help a foreigner. Angermeyer does not appreciate Emmi accusing him of discrimination and that he cannot serve someone who cant speak German. Emmi angrily tells him that is nonsense and that Ali speaks better German than him. This upsets Angermeyer and he bans Emmi from the store.

    Emmi walks home from the store to find some of the neighbors standing in the stairwell. They stop her and tell her that everyone in the building has agreed that she has to clean the stairwell twice a month instead of their usual system. The three women say that there has been a lot more dirt than usual and that she should clean it since she brought a foreigner home. Emmi tells Mrs. Karges to mind her own business, since she does not meddle in her affairs. Mrs. Karges says that they have nothing to be ashamed of like she does. Emmi accuses her of jealousy and continues up the stairs. Mrs. Karges is shocked by the notion and wonders whatever Emmi could mean by that.

    Ali comes home to find Emmi sitting in the kitchen. She looks at his paystub and sees that he worked five hours overtime. She jokingly says that she thought he was off boozing somewhere. Ali doesnt understand what she means. Emmi explains herself and he says that he doesnt drink without her. She adds together their earnings and says that they will be rich, and that they will buy a little piece of heaven. He asks her why heaven? and she says it is just a fancy of hers. Ali gets up to take a shower and she offers to make him coffee.

    Emmi walks into the bathroom and sees Ali in the shower. She looks at him and tells him that he is very beautiful and that his coffee is ready. Ali continues to wash himself.

    Ali steps out into the kitchen and Emmi hands him his coffee. The doorbell rings and Emmi goes to answer it. Her coworker Paula (Gusti Kreissl) came over to see if Emmi could work her shift for her so she could attend her sisters funeral. She invites her into the living room where she introduces her to Ali. Paula is shocked to find out that they have been married for three months. She quickly excuses herself and says she will ask someone else to cover her shift. Ali says that that woman is no good, but Emmi just writes it off as just shock. He knows that she was disgusted by him and says that she had death in her eye. Emmi tells him he is imagining things and to get dressed. Ali suggests they go out to see his Arab buddies since Germans are not good. Emmi doesnt feel like going out but tells him to invite his friends over to their apartment.

    Ali goes to the bar to invite his friends over. No one is there yet except for the bartender. As she pours him a beer she asks him if he is happy, to which Ali says he doesnt know. She tells him to come over to her place sometime and she will make him couscous. He tells her that he doesnt know if he will, so she asks him if he is scared of his wife. This upsets him and he says he is not. She again tells him to come over, and he says maybe. One of Alis buddies and the brunette woman walk into the bar. They greet each other and Ali invites them over to his house. The woman says she will not go to that old whores place. Ali grabs her by her dress and tells her that Emmi is not an old whore. He lets her go and the two men walk to the door. They run into two other men on the way out and they all leave for Emmis. The bartender and the woman are left alone watching them leave.

    Later Mrs. Karges and another neighbor are in the stairwell talking to two police officers. They complain to them that the party going on in Emmis apartment is too loud. They also tell the officers that she has four Arabs in her apartment and that it isnt safe. The officers tell them not to exaggerate and that they will speak with Emmi. They walk up the stairs and the two women stay where they are, commenting on the policemens long hair.

    Ali and three of his buddies sit in the living room and play a game while Emmi watches. The door bell rings and Emmi goes to answer it. The policemen inform her that the neighbors are complaining about the noise and ask her if she could turn the music down. She agrees and says goodnight to the officers. Emmi walks back into the living room and asks Ali to turn down the music. She tells him that the neighbors have sent the police on them. They look out the window and watch the policemen drive away.

    Emmi is on her lunch break at work and eats with her coworkers in the stairwell. She asks them to pass her a knife, but all three women ignore her. They talk amongst themselves as if she doesnt exist. She tells them to stop acting so strange and asks them again to pass her a knife. They pretend they dont hear her and carry on their conversation. Emmi stands up and gets the knife herself. As she sits down the women decide to move further down the stairs. They continue talking and leave Emmi all by herself.

    Emmi and Ali leave their apartment building and walk past Mr. Gruber, Mrs. Karges, and the other neighbor woman. As they walk away Mrs. Karges asks Gruber if there is anything that can be done about them. He does not see a problem with Emmi and Ali as tenants. He says they seem happy together. The second woman does not see their happiness, just how indecent their union is. Gruber does not see anything indecent about the couple, though he says he has tried. He says goodbye to the ladies and departs. Mrs. Karges asks the other woman if she can understand such a situation. She says she does not and goes inside.

    The couple is sitting across from each other at an outdoor café. They are surrounded by dozens of empty yellow tables. Ali looks behind him and sees a group of people staring at them from the doorway. Emmi tells him to ignore them and that they are just envious. Ali doesnt understand so Emmi explains what envious means. She begins to cry. Emmi is so happy to be with the man she loves, but she cant take peoples judgments anymore. She pretends that peoples hatred doesnt bother her but it really does. She screams at the other people to stop staring at them. Ali comforts her as she becomes hysterical. Emmi suggests they go on a trip together to get away from everyone. Then when they get back everything will be different.

    The shopkeeper sees Emmi and Ali return from their trip. Adele points out how nice Emmi always was. She figures that the marriage wont last and that he should let Emmi shop there again. The shop needs the business and Emmi was always such a good customer. He decides that he will greet her the next time she walks by the store.

    Emmi and Ali take their things from the car and start walking upstairs. Two neighbors greet Emmi and wish to speak to her about her cellar. Mrs. Ellis son has been sent to Norway for a year and she needs a place to store his things. Emmi offers her space and promises that Ali will help her move. The woman thanks her and Emmi continues upstairs. As they separate the other two ladies comment on how nice and helpful Emmi is.

    Back at the apartment Emmi gives Ali the cellar keys and tells him to help Mrs. Ellis. If they are nice to her then she will be nice to them. She says she is going shopping and tells Ali to change his clothes.

    Adele and Mr. Angermeyer see Emmi walking towards their store. Adele tells him to go outside and talk to her. He greets her and invites her inside the store to tell them all about her trip.

    Emmis son Bruno walks up Emmis stairwell and is greeted by Mrs. Karges. She tells him that Emmi has returned from her trip and has gone out shopping. He thanks her and she proceeds to tell him about Ali helping Mrs. Ellis and about her son going to Norway. Emmi arrives and Bruno walks with her upstairs to her apartment.

    As Emmi puts things away, Bruno apologizes for breaking the television set. The children have gotten used to the marriage except for Albert. Emmi forgives him and he then asks her for a favor. His wife is going to start working again and they need Emmi to watch their child for a few hours a day. Ali arrives and Bruno shakes his hand. Ali goes to take a shower. Emmi agrees to Brunos favor and he leaves the apartment. Ali asks Emmi if she is going to make couscous. She tells them that she cannot make couscous and that he should get used to the way things are in Germany. Germans dont eat couscous and she herself doesnt like it. Ali leaves to go meet his Arab buddies and to eat couscous. He does not want Emmi to go with him. After he leaves Emmi is left standing alone in her kitchen, staring at the floor.

    Ali walks to his usual bar but it is closed. He goes to upstairs to the bartenders apartment. At first he hesitates, but then he rings the doorbell. She asks him if he wants anything to eat or drink, so he says he wants couscous. She tells him to help himself to some fig brandy. Later she finds him in the living room staring out the window. He takes off his jacket and she takes off his shirt from behind. They face each other and hug.

    Ali returns home drunk. He walks around calling Emmis name and tries to find the bedroom. He finds it locked and passes out on the floor. Emmi opens the door and sees him. She leaves him on the floor and closes the door.

    The next day they eat together in silence. They look at each other but do not say a word. Ali leaves the apartment while Emmi just stares at the table.

    At work Emmis coworkers greet her at lunch as if nothing has happened. They tell her that Frieda has been fired for stealing. In her place they have hired a foreign woman named Yolanda from Herzegovina. As they are talking one of the women decide that they should talk further down the stairs away from Yolanda. Then they tell Emmi that they are not getting their raise and that Yolanda makes less money than them. Emmi invites them over to her house to discuss how to get their raise. They decide not to invite Yolanda since she is on a different pay scale than them. Yolanda continues to eat her lunch alone.

    Later that evening the women show up to Emmis place and they meet Ali. They talk about him to Emmi as if he isnt there. They touch and examine him like some prize animal. He leaves the room and they dont know what is wrong with him. Emmi says its simply his foreign mood swings. She leaves the room to get coffee for the women and sees Ali leave the apartment. Again, they stare at each other and do not say a word. She turns back around and smiles at her friends, even though it is quite obvious that she is not in a smiling mood.

    Ali arrives at the bartenders apartment. She is just on her way out but she invites him to stay and eat leftover couscous. After she leaves he sits on the couch and looks down at the floor.

    Emmi thinks she hears Ali walking up the stairs. She opens the door and yells for him but it is just Mr. Gruber. She apologizes and begins to cry. Mr. Gruber says goodnight and leaves Emmi crying in her doorway.

    Ali wakes up on the bartenders couch just as she arrives home. She asks him to stay over for the night. Ali undresses as she cleans up in the bathroom. She walks back into the room naked and turns off the light before walking over to him. They embrace and lie down on the couch together.

    Ali is at work and one of his coworkers is telling jokes. His boss walks in with Emmi. She confronts Ali and asks him where he has been all night. She tells him how much she misses him and asks him to come back. He stares at her and says nothing. One of the men asks if that his grandmother from Morocco, and all the men laugh. Emmi and Ali stare at each other and she leaves. After she walks out the men continue to laugh at the joke, except for Ali.

    Later Ali gambles with is buddies at the bar. After he loses a game he sends one of the men to his house to get more money. The bartender scolds him for gambling away his wages. Ali snaps at her and goes into the bathroom.

    After using the urinal Ali walks over to the mirror. He stares at himself and slaps himself in the face over and over again.

    Ali comes out of the bathroom just as his friend returns with his money. He plays another hand and Emmi comes into the bar. She sits at a table and orders a cola. Ali loses again. The bartender brings Emmi her drink and she asks her to play The Black Gypsy on the jukebox. When the music starts to play Ali walks over to Emmis table. He asks her to dance with her. She stands and they walk to the dance floor. As they dance Ali confesses that he slept with another woman. She doesnt care but she says that she cannot stop him from doing that. However, she does want them to get along when they are together. Otherwise life isnt worth living. Ali says he doesnt want anyone else and that he only loves her. Emmi says that she loves him too and that together they are strong. Right then Ali collapses to the floor and groans in pain. Emmi tries to comfort him as the bartender calls an ambulance

    At the hospital the doctor explains to Emmi that Ali has a perforated stomach ulcer. It is very common among foreign workers due to the stress. They can only operate and he will probably have another one in six months. He will recover but the doctor guesses he will be back again. Emmi goes to Alis bedside and holds his hand as she cries.

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