Harsh Texture

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

A German widow and a Moroccan migrant marry to cope with their loneliness, but German society proves reluctant to accept them

The old woman comes into the bar from the rain, lured in by the Arabic music she often hears passing by.  Feeling a tinge of compassion, one of the patrons at the bar offers her a dance.  He’s a tall and well built Moroccan who’s unwieldy name truncated into ‘Ali’.  The woman, Emmi, accepts immediately, casting off her funereal black jacket and revealing a loud dress.  They dance, and connect  over good conversation.  Ali offers to walk her home.  She offers him a room for the evening.  By the end of the night they will be lovers and by the end of the week spouses.

The marriage incenses Emmi’s family who disown her on hearing the news.  Her neighbors regularly conspire against the couple, calling the landlord and police hoping to have them broken up.  Her co-workers refuse to acknowledge Emmi in conversation.  And everywhere she goes with Ali, stares stares stares.

Eventually Emmi breaks down, and the couple leaves for an extended vacation.

When the couple return from their sabbatical they find sudden acceptance in Emmi’s circle, but Ali finds this more insufferable.  He’s accepted and welcomed, but still as a second class citizen.  A handsome manservant, to be oogled and ordered to menial tasks.


“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” is spiritual remake of Douglas Sirk’s “All that Heaven Allows”, though the latter film uses the source to comment entirely on the Germany of the seventies.  In a way this is more interesting to see post colonial integration tension outside of the context of American civil rights.  

Fassbinder’s style, a combustible Bresson, where the even, naturalistic acting is given to sudden outbursts fits this dreary world.  We are never shown a success or an exemplar in this German society.  Everyone is fed up at work and unhappy in their personal lives.

Rainer Warner Fassbinder’s filmography is so large that finding a place to start can be challenging.  “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” is a pretty rewarding first step

Published: July 31, 2016, 6:16 p.m.
Updated: July 31, 2016, 6:16 p.m.