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Ali: Fear Eats the Soul More at IMDbPro »Angst essen Seele auf (original title)

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78 out of 85 people found the following review useful:

Sad. True. Beautiful.

Author: RWiggum from Erlangen, Germany
13 August 2003

Munich, in the mid-70s: She enters the exotic bar because it's raining and maybe because she's a little curious what this place with that strange music is like. He asks her for a dance because his friends tell him to do so. He accompanies her home. He stays for the night. The fall in love. They marry.

All that sounds like your average Hollywood romance. But that's only half the story of 'Fear Eats the Soul'. Here's the other half: She, Emmi Kurowski, is a 60 year old, widowed cleaner, mother of three married children. He, Ali, is a black foreign worker from Morocco, 20 years younger than her, speaking a rather bad German (a more faithful translation of the German original title 'Angst essen Seele auf', a quote from Ali, would be 'Fear Eat Soul'). This film is not a cheesy romance, it is the story of two people who love each other and struggle with the rest of the world to be accepted.

But the people around them have problems. The neighbors are talking about them, Emmi's colleagues ignore her, the merchant refuses to serve them, and Emmi's children don't want to understand it - her son Bruno even destroys the TV set in his anger.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is arguably the greatest German director ever, and with more than 40 films, TV series, TV films plus 16 theater plays he wrote, directed and often also (co-)starred in in a career that lasted only a mere 15 years, he is certainly one of the most efficient directors in film history. His best films are a criticism of German society after World War II by simple, but memorable stories with very well observed characters. And 'Fear Eats the Soul' displays Fassbinder's qualities best. In very simple shots (facial expressions, the use doors to stress the loneliness of his characters), he makes this films very emotional.

The film is sometimes described as naive. That's wrong. Maybe it is naive to believe that a 60 year old widow and a black 40 year old worker will fall in love. But the rest is as well-observed as a film can be: The fact that people's reactions change when they realize that it's easier to accept them and take advantage of them. That Emmi eagerly joins her colleagues as soon as they have found a new victim. That Ali goes to the waitress of his bar to get the two things Emmi can't give him - sex and his favorite dish.

And then the film has some amazing acting. But from the entire cast, Brigitte Mira as Emmi Kurowski stands out. Actually a comedic actress, she shines in this drama as a woman who struggles for acceptance. Her speech outside a restaurant, when all the waiters stare at them but don't serve them, is heartbreaking, her entire performance is unforgettable.

At first sight, 'Fear Eats the Soul' is a small, simple romantic film. But look closer and you'll see it is so much more, it is a comment on subliminal prejudices and selfishness. It shows what a film can do, even if its budget is tiny, if it only believes in the power of its story.

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67 out of 78 people found the following review useful:

The film which made the greatest impression on me

Author: boboxbury from Lincoln, England
17 January 2002

This is the film which made the greatest impression on me ever. As a young serviceman stationed in West Germany throughout the 1970's & 80's I used to watch a great deal of German Television, to try and understand the German people and their culture.

One night,wife and children asleep, I happened upon: "Ein Film von Rainer Werner Fassbinder"

What a revelation!! Suddenly here was a film which showed all human life in its most passionate, desperate, vital but delicate form.

It certainly made a great impression on me and even now, 26 years later, I can still see, feel and react to each thought, idea aand feeling that coursed through me at that time.

Truly a wonderful film and a genius of a director.

It helped me understand love.

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37 out of 43 people found the following review useful:

A poignant, honest, and revealing work of art

Author: Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C.
7 November 2005

Two lonely people connect with each other at a local bar in Munich, Germany. The bar is frequented by foreign workers, mostly Arabic, who come to socialize and escape from the rejection they feel as foreign workers. Inspired by the Douglas Sirk melodrama All That Heaven Allows, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul by German master Rainer Werner Fassbinder is a simple and direct statement of love between an older woman and a younger man and also a biting commentary on the mentality of prejudice and the state of German society during a period of economic resurgence.

Shot in a period of only fifteen days, Ali (El Hedi ben Salem) is a fortyish Moroccan auto mechanic who feels estranged from his culture amidst the condescension and hostility of German society. Emmi Kurowski (Brigette Mira), who is probably close to sixty, is a lonely cleaning lady who lost her husband many years ago and finds the outlets for companionship very limited. To escape from the rain, Emmi ducks into the bar where a few foreign workers gather as the jukebox plays haunting Arabic songs. On a dare, Ali asks Emmi to dance and the two become friends after he accompanies her to her home and stays overnight. Speaking in broken German, Ali's terse answers to her questions underscore his inability to fully blend into German society. As Ali says, "German Master. Arab Dog".

Emmi is a native German who once belonged to the Nazi Party but shrugs it off by asking "Wasn't everyone?" She is an innately good person but full of the contradictions of German society. They are drawn to each other out of a desperate need for love but as they see more of each other, they are subject to increasing hostility from nosy neighbors, co-workers, and members of Emmi's family. The resentment reflects not only ageism but also the reaction to foreign workers who in their view are usurping their jobs. In a classic scene, Emmi tells her children that she is going to marry and introduces Ali as they sit in stunned silence and disbelief staring at her until one of the sons kicks in the television set as the rest get up and leave.

Even after they are married, the hostility continues and the couple are subjected to condescending service in restaurants and neighbors telling the landlord's son about Emmi's "lodger" and calling the police to report a disturbance when friends gather to listen to music. In a powerful sequence, Ali and Emmi sit alone in a garden restaurant surrounded by empty yellow chairs and the restaurant staff stands transfixed, looking at them from the doorway. After Emmi breaks down in tears, they decide to go on a short vacation, hoping that things will turn around when they return. Surprisingly they do when hypocritical neighbors and family members suddenly discover that they are in need of assistance from the couple.

The fears have been implanted, however, and the newlyweds' deep-seated insecurities come to the surface despite a noticeable change in attitude from the people around them. Ali longs for his native food that Emmi cannot or will not cook and turns to the buxom owner of the local bar for sex and Couscous. After a brief separation, they return to the bar where they first met as the film takes an unexpected turn. Brigette Mira turns in a solid performance as the lonely old woman, giving her the strength of character to withstand all of life's rejections. El Hedi ben Salem is magnificent as the strong stoic African who is able to give of himself to a very different kind of partner. With limited dialogue, the camera-work enhances the feeling of isolation with wide shots that render the couple vulnerable to the stares of neighbors, family, waiters, and bar owners. A poignant, honest, and revealing work of art, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is an immediate addition to my list of favorite films.

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17 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

A German Update of "All That Heaven Allows"

Author: evanston_dad from United States
14 September 2007

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's quietly powerful film is a sort-of remake of Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows," a film and director greatly admired by Fassbinder, but it has a sharper edge than Sirk's film. In "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul," the couple fighting a society's prejudice and resentment of their unconventional love must fight some of their own prejudices as well. In Sirk's film, the only thing imposing on the complete happiness of Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson was the busy-body ostracism of family and friends who didn't approve of the relationship between a rich society widow and her working-class gardener. In "Ali," Fassbinder suggests that happiness isn't something that's gained from the approval of others, but rather is the responsibility of the individuals involved. One of the things I liked best about this film is that as the German society gets used to the unconventional romance and begins to accept our two protagonists, the couple themselves begin to struggle to maintain a grip on the happiness they thought would be their's by right.

Fassbinder's unconventional couple are a frumpy German widow and a Moroccan immigrant 10-15 years younger than her. I gather from this film that Moroccans (or Arabs in general) were about as hated and feared in Germany at the time of this film's release as blacks were in America during the worst of the civil rights movement. So you can imagine how the couple's initial courting and subsequent marriage is handled by their neighbors, friends and family. Fassbinder himself was gay, and many suggest that the film is an allegory for the way homosexuals were persecuted. Fassbinder's private life undoubtedly informed his film, but the movie is really more universal than that. It really applies to anyone who's ever suffered the judgement of a group of people over something that didn't even affect those people, and really, who can honestly say that they've never been subjected to that?

Fassbinder directs in a low-key, unfussy style, yet he creates images and scenes that linger in the head long after the film is over. It's a lovely film, very well acted, scripted and directed. It's not exactly sad, because it argues that societies are able eventually to adapt to new things and accept things they originally rejected. But it's not exactly happy either, because it suggests that relationships don't necessarily become easier just because external obstacles are removed.

Grade: A

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21 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

"The story of impossible love":

Author: Galina from Virginia, USA
15 October 2006

This powerful and gentle film tells the story of love and marriage of Emmi, a 60+ widowed German cleaning lady and Ali, a Moroccan immigrant mechanic who is more than 20 (I think close to 30) years her younger. Their affair and the decision to marry shocked everyone who knew Emmi: her grown children, her neighbors, coworkers (mostly, middle-aged widows as herself) and even the owner of a neighborhood grocery shop where she has been a loyal customer for years. The way clever and observant Fassbinder looks at their struggle to keep the relationship is deeply pessimistic - the couple could survive the obstacles that society would create for them. They can survive disapproval, misunderstanding and prejudice but at the very moment they think all problems are in the past, they find the emptiness inside and two lonely hearts together are even worse than one. The more I think of it the more I realize that "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" is among the best, the most poignant, gentlest and heartbreaking descriptions of unavailability for happiness ever filmed. What makes the movie even more poignant is the fact that both Fassbinder and El Hedi ben Salem, the man whom Fassbinder loved and who played Ali committed suicide in the same year, Fassbinder - a few weeks after El Hedi. The film is also a love letter to El Hedi. In one of the film's most moving scene, Emmi looks at the man with whom she so suddenly and desperately fell in love with admiration, longing, and wise sadness while he dries himself after the shower. It is not only Emmi looks at Ali, it is Rainer looks with love and affection at the man he loved through the lenses of his camera.

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14 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Fassbinder at his bleakest?

Author: cwarne_uk
9 February 2003

Although ostensibly an attack on prejudice in all its forms this movie is also a pessimistic comment on how Fassbinder saw all relationships as problematic. The couple in this survive society's disapproval and reach a point of co-existence with the world. At this point they are undone form within. Superb performances all round but particularly Briggite Mira as Emmi. Watch out for RWF as her repulsive son-in-law. A great film from a great director.

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20 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

Strangely compelling

Author: ian_harris from London, England
31 March 2003

A thought experiment. You put Mike Leigh and Spike Lee together and ask them to remake Harold and Maude with even fewer laughs and without much music. Sounds awful?

This movie is actually strangely compelling. It is minimal in so many ways - in particular the minimal use of language. I only have "get by on a visit with occasional reference to phrase book" German and even less Arabic, yet I could have managed this movie without subtitles. So little is actually said in words. Yet so much is said.

This movie seemed so relevant today - when the gossipy women worry about bombs and terrorism because "Ali" is an "Arab" (actually he is a Berber) you think about our society some 30 years on and despair a little. The scene when the frau tells her family that she has married "Ali" will stick with me for some time.

It's hard to explain why, but there is something really special about this movie and it is well worth seeing.

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8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Aggressive critique of bigoted German society undermined by idealized immigrant portrait

Author: Turfseer from United States
23 July 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Werner Fassbinder's 'Ali: Fear Eats the Soul' is loosely based on American director Douglas Sirk's 1955 soap opera, 'All That Heaven Allows'. While Sirk's tale is about a middle class suburban housewife falling for a lower-class gardener who she employs, Fassbinder has bigger fish to fry. His tale focuses on Emmi, a 60ish West German cleaning woman who one day strays into a bar populated by Moroccan immigrants and ends up dancing with Ali, a dark-skinned Moroccan who works at an auto body shop. Fassbinder's strategy is to expose a deeply prejudiced German society who react poorly to Emmi and Ali, after they end up as a couple.

For awhile, Emmi is the true hero of the piece, as she endures all kinds of rejection from friends and family, who can't stomach the idea of a good German woman shacking up with (in their eyes) a 'lowly' Arab. The hostility is so intense from the German side that one wonders if Fassbinder has created a coterie of bad stereotypes. Fassbinder himself plays Emmi's son-in-law, a dyed in the wool neo-Nazi if there ever was one and his hatred of all immigrants may represent the bigoted voice of a certain group of reactionaries that still probably exist today, all over Europe. But when one of Emmi's sons smashes a TV set in their first encounter with Ali and they all walk out (including Emmi's daughter and other son) and vow never to talk to the mother again, it's a little too much. The same goes for Emmi's gossipy neighbors and the grocer who Emmi has patronized for years—they too end up shunning her after meeting Ali for the first time. Only a reasonable landlord and a group of even-keeled police officers refuse to play the nasty race card, as Fassbinder suggests that there are only a few good eggs amongst all the bad apples.

Are people who have such bigoted inclinations, so blatant about their prejudices? In real life, I say no. They would naturally try and project an image to the contrary, that they're actually tolerant when deep down they're not. Fassbinder's bunch of German nasties become much more palatable in the second half as they now do a 180 and try to suck up to Emmi. Fassbinder makes it clear that their big turn-a-round is hypocritical, because they act entirely out of self-interest and not because they've developed a humanitarian bent. A neighbor now needs Emmi's extra space in her apartment where they can store some extra clothes belonging to a relative who has just come into town. And one of Emmi's sons want her to watch their children as he and his wife need to be at work. There's also the grocer who realizes he's losing business from a good customer and now pretends that he has no problem with Ali and Emmi as a couple. The second half machinations in which friends and family make much more of an effort to accommodate a couple that they deep down despise, rings much more true than the blatant bigots Fassbinder tries to pass off as real people in the first half.

Fassbinder wisely brings Emmi down a peg or two in the second half, suggesting that her Nazi past (she reveals she was a Party member "like everyone else") is not entirely behind her. After all the hatred brings her to tears in the first half of the film and the unexpected acceptance occurs once she and Ali come back from a vacation, now she's more than willing to join forces again with her unprincipled neighbors (the gossipy women), to the detriment of a new apartment dweller, a cleaning woman from Yugoslavia, who ends up automatically ostracized and the new punching bag for the apartment ladies from hell. Emmi shows further signs of corruption, when she treats Ali as an object, showing off his muscles to her new found fawning friends and attributing his mood swings to a "foreigner mentality".

While the bulk of German society is taken to task, Fassbinder refuses to even things up on the other side. Heaven forbid that Fassbinder would ever suggest that there's a dark side to the immigrant experience in Germany. Ali is such a non-descript 'good guy', one can only dub him the 'Marty' of the New German Cinema. Despite being put off by all the racism he encounters everyday, he's willing , out of the goodness of his heart, to take Emmi for his wife, despite her physical unattractiveness. The more saintly a portrait Fassbinder paints of Ali, the more you get to sneer at the horrible racist German society, responsible for his lack of acceptance and outright ostracism. Sure, Fassbinder, will throw in a few 'imperfections'—he goes running back to the German barmaid and has a sex with her because Emmi won't cook his favorite 'cous-cous'. But in the end, he'll take that last dance with Emmi before collapsing from a stomach ulcer, brought on by all the stress caused by the bad, bad Germans!

The height of irony is our German 'Marty', the actor Ed Hedi ben Salem, ended up in prison after stabbing three people and then committing suicide. Salem was Fassbinder's lover in real life and it's obvious that his fictional character, 'Ali', is nothing more than a completely idealized vision of immigrants as victims. That is not to say that xenophobia in German society doesn't exist as well as outright racism—but Fassbinder, in his zeal to prosecute the failings of his own people, is unable to strike a balanced tone, where the foibles of both sides are dealt with fairly and impartially.

In its strongest moments, 'Ali' represents a plea for tolerance of people with different customs. In her strong performance as 'Emmi', Brigitte Mira represents the individual who's willing to 'go it alone', fighting a misguided establishment bent on living in the past by rejecting those who embrace 'alternative lifestyles'.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

That Must Have Been Some Vacation!

Author: disinterested_spectator from United States
2 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Emmi, a German woman who appears to be in her sixties, stops in an Arab bar to get out of the rain. She meets Ali, who is from Morocco, and who is at least twenty years younger than she is. One thing leads to another, and he ends up spending the night with her, and they become lovers.

There have been a lot of movies about couples that have to deal with prejudice and disapproval, but this one seems to be going for the gold. First, Emmi and Ali are a mixed-race couple in which the woman is the one who is white. Moreover, he is also foreign. And though religion never comes up, we suspect that she is Christian and he is Muslim. And then they are different in age by a generation. Just as society accepts a mixed-race couple better when the man is white, so too does society accept an age difference better when the older one is the man. But just as in this case the woman white, so too is she the one who is older.

Mixed-race couples of the same age can make a go of it, getting married and having children, if that is what they want. But when the woman is much older than the man, even of the same race, it is better for them to treat the relationship as a fling, and that means they should not live together, and they should definitely not get married. As the bartender says of their relationship, "Of course it won't last. So What?" But this movie manages to get them married anyway.

First, we find out that Ali shares a room with five other men. Since she lives alone, it seems to make perfectly good sense for him to move in with her. But later we find out that as a mechanic, he makes more money than she does as a cleaning lady. So, if she can afford an apartment all to herself, why can't he? Then the landlord objects to her subletting her apartment. In America, a woman could simply say he was her roommate, but I guess things are weird in Germany. So, she says that she and Ali are going to get married. She is not serious, saying this only to satisfy the landlord about his subletting objection, but Ali thinks it is a good idea. And so, against all reason, the movie contrives to get them married.

The rudeness and bigotry they experience from almost everyone is over the top, with people calling her a whore, ostracizing her, and even kicking in her television set. But let us assume that these vicious extremes of prejudice are the way things would have been in Germany in the 1970s. If so, then the total capitulation that follows is unbelievable. Emmi suggests that she and Ali should go somewhere on vacation, and that things will be different when they get back. It is an absurd prediction, but it comes to pass nevertheless. When they come back from vacation, everyone is nice to them. Granted, they all seem to want something from Emmi. But what a coincidence it is that so many people would want something from her all at the same time, and enough so for them to overcome the vehement prejudice we know them to harbor. But that is not the only change that happened while they were on vacation. Emmi and Ali have changed as well. Ali becomes sullen, cheats on her, and seems to be ashamed of his relationship with her. And Emmi begins to exhibit prejudice against foreigners. She tells him to help carry stuff down to the cellar, as if he were the hired help; she refuses to cook him couscous, saying he should get used to eating German food; and she and her friends talk about him while he is standing in the same room, discussing how clean he is, after which they examine him like some prize bull.

Actually, those who made the movie seem to be as obsessed with the question of Arab cleanliness as the characters in the movie. We have a scene in which Emmi gives Ali a toothbrush, a scene in which we see him taking a shower, a reference to his taking a shower, and a scene in which the female Arab bartender says she is going to get cleaned up before she and Ali have sex.

We expected there to be disapproval from others, and we expected Emmi and Ali to begin to suffer from their differences once the initial passion wore off. But the sudden shift from one extreme to another, separated only by that incredibly transformative vacation that we never see take place, but only hear about, is jarring.

And then, as we wonder how all this is going to work out between them, Ali collapses on the dance floor from a perforated ulcer. It is almost as if the people making this movie did not know how to end it, and so they just threw in a medical emergency at the last minute, leaving us with a final scene in which Ali is unconscious in a hospital bed.

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11 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Is it love?

Author: Mort-31 from Vienna, Austria
3 September 2002

First of all, this film has definitely the best (German) movie title ever. It loses much of its power when it's translated but in German it is absolutely fascinating.

On the other hand, Fassbinder's movies and especially this one are not untranslatable, which is positive. The story about a love (is it?) between two people of different age and origin is universal and, though set in a very xenophobe and intolerant Germany, should be understood by everybody all over the world. Fassbinder is a master in guiding his actors so they can they play naturally and believably without using a particular local accent or slang that is probably more realistic.

I do not completely agree with the film's utterly pessimistic view on practically all the characters in the movie; I think his portray of contemporary society is a little bit exaggerated (and it was even twenty-five years ago). However, I acknowledge that by means of exaggerating like this, Fassbinder makes his criticism clear and evokes a particularly bad feeling (of guilt?) in the viewer's belly. While the story is rather sad, it includes a lot of (sarcastic) side-swipes on society as it is.

Angst essen Seele auf (oh, this is a marvellous title!) is maybe a more silent version of Harold and Maude; more silent but not less interesting.

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