Monday, September 23, 2013

2013 Blind Spot Series: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Angst essen seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul) is the story of an Arab worker who meets a lonely widow in Germany as they fall in love much to the shock of family and friends. The film is a melodramatic look into two people falling in love despite the ethnic tension that was happening in early 1970s West Germany. Starring Brigitte Mira, El Hedi Ben Salem, Barbara Valentin, and Irm Hermann. Angst essen seele auf is a ravishing yet captivating film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

The film’s premise is very simple as it is this simple love story between a middle-aged German widow who meets a young Arab worker at a bar where they chat, dance, and fall in love. The relationship shocks not just friends of the woman including her fellow tenants in the apartment she lives but her three adult children are also in shock by this relationship. Notably as there’s tension towards Arabs over what happened at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich as many disapprove of the relationship which takes a toll on Emmi (Brigitte Mira) yet Ali (El Hedi Ben Salem) assures her that things will be OK. It’s a film that explores a relationship that just happens where many are surprised as well as disgusted by this union between a middle-aged German widow and a Moroccan in his 30s. Yet, it’s something that couldn’t be explained as Rainer Werner Fassbinder creates a story that is about this taboo relationship being told during a time where there is this ethnic tension emerging.

Fassbinder’s screenplay does have a very simple and traditional three-act structure in the way he develops the relationship between Emmi and Ali. The first act is about how they’ve met on one rainy night in Munich where they chat, dance, and he later accompanies her to her apartment where they fall in love. The news about the relationship shocks Emmi’s neighbors and co-workers as well as her daughter Krista (Irm Hermann) who is the first to hear about the news. The second act is about Emmi and Ali’s marriage and the reaction from family and friends where both of them endure prejudice. Ali is either ignored or treated with disdain while Emmi finds herself having to stand up for Ali to her friends and family who would ignore or sneer at her prompting her to act out. The third act would play into elements of the relationship where Emmi tries to get herself in the back of the good graces of her friends yet would alienate Ali in the process as it would start to affect the relationship.

It’s not just the structure of the script that is unique but also the way the characters are portrayed as Emmi is this woman who is old-fashioned but very lonely as she stumbles into this bar. She is intrigued by Ali’s kindness as she treats him in a very maternal manner and is eager to treat him with respect despite the prejudice she faces. Ali is a very sensitive yet quiet individual who speaks broken German yet he manages to deal with adversity in a very nonchalant way as he holds his head high and know it will pass. It would play into the complexity of their relationship until the third act as he’s being ordered to do things in the house and not treated kindly only for Emmi to realize how much she really needs him.

Fassbinder’s direction is definitely mesmerizing in the way he frames his actors into a shot and how he presents the melodrama. A lot of the melodrama is definitely inspired by Douglas Sirk as Fassbinder isn’t afraid to let the emotions play out that includes this very great scene where Emmi and Ali are all alone in a restaurant while waiters and other staff members are looking at them from a far. Emmi realizes how alone she feels as she starts insulting them as she’s still sitting at her table while Ali holds her hands where Fassbinder does a lot with so little to present these dramatic moments. Even as he would maintain some intimacy in these melodramatic moments that includes the scene where Emmi introduces Ali to her adult children where it’s about the framing and how the camera pans to capture the reaction of each of Ali’s children including her son-in-law Eugen (Rainer Werner Fassbinder).

The direction also has Fassbinder taking on some unique framing devices like the way he puts characters in the middle of a door frame or how they’re presented in a staircase. A lot of it is from afar where Fassbinder reveals a lot of what is happening though there isn’t much dialogue. Even as it would be prevalent in the third act as Ali seeks to find some companionship with the bartender Barbara (Barbara Valentin) who would make couscous for him when Emmi doesn’t want to. The framing devices of Fassbinder are quite entrancing as it would help amp up the melodrama where he doesn’t need to do any camera movements and such. Overall, Fassbinder creates a very sensitive yet visceral melodrama about a love affair between two people that is considered taboo by those watching from afar.

Cinematographer Jurgen Jurges does incredible work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography from the look of the exteriors in the city of Munich in the daytime to some of the interior scenes including the bar where Emmi meets Ali. Editor Thea Eymesz does amazing work with the editing as it is quite straightforward while emphasizing on slow yet methodical cuts to play out some of the drama that occurs. The sound work of Fritz Muller-Scherz is excellent for its sound as some of it is intimate in the way the drama plays out while it also captures some of the great moments in the film involving the music as it features some Arabian style as well as classical and old-school German pop music.

The film’s cast is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it includes appearances from Gusti Kreissl and Elisabeth Bertram as co-workers of Emmi, Walter Sedlmayr and Doris Mattes as a couple of grocers Emmi always shopped at, Katharina Herberg as a woman at the bar who likes to flirt with Ali, Marquard Bohm as the landlord’s kind son, Karl Scheydt as Emmi’s eldest son Albert, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder as Emmi’s very prejudice and lazy son-in-law. Irm Hermann is terrific as Emmi’s daughter Krista who is aghast by the news of her mother’s new lover while Barbara Valentin is wonderful as the bartender Barbara who acts as a secret companion for Ali as she also serves drinks to Emmi.

El Hedi Ben Salem is fantastic as Ali as a man who is intrigued by Emmi as he becomes her confidant as he helps her out as well while dealing with some of the prejudice he faces. Finally, there’s Brigitte Mira in a radiant performance as Emmi as a middle-aged widow who finds comfort in Ali as she falls for him where she treats him maternally while being his supporting when people criticize the relationship. The two together have great chemistry in the way they act as a couple as well as the sense of distance they create in the film’s third act as they’re the heart and soul of the film.

Angst essen seele auf is a magnificent film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder that features sensational performances from El Hedi Ben Salem and Brigitte Mira. The film is definitely one of the most compelling love stories in film where two different people face prejudices in their relationship as well deal with other forces. The film also showcases Fassbinder’s very sensitive portrayal into the world of melodrama told during a crucial time for Germany. In the end, Angst essen seele auf is a remarkable film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films: Love is Colder Than Death - (Katzelmacher) - (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) - (Rio das Mortes) - (The American Soldier) - (Whity) - (Beware of a Holy Whore) - The Merchant of Four Seasons - The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant - Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day - (Jailbait) - World on a Wire - (Martha (1974 film)) - (Effi Briest) - (Fox and His Friends) - (Mother Kuster’s Trip to Heaven) - Satan's Brew - (Chinese Roulette) - (Germany in Autumn) - (Despair) - (In a Year of 13 Moons) - The Marriage of Maria Braun - (Third Generation) - (Berlin Alexanderplatz) - (Lili Marleen) - Lola (1981 film) - Veronika Voss - Querelle

© thevoid99 2013


ruth said...

I read a review of this not too long ago, might've been Eric from The Warning Sign. Sounds intriguing indeed, I'd have to check this out.

thevoid99 said...

This is my 2nd Fassbinder film that I've seen so far. I hope to do more in the future as he's made so many. Sometimes, 4 in a year. I also hope to revisit The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant as it's a film I had a difficult time watching but I think it's going to be easier for me now as I'm much more patient these days.

Dan Heaton said...

I really need to watch this again. I caught it in a film class in college, and I struggled to stay interested (despite the original premise). I really liked The Marriage of Maria Braun on a second viewing, so I expect that Fassbinder's films just grow with time. I've seen a few others that were really interesting. I'm glad you were able to check this out. I still need to get my act together for this month's Blind Spot.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan Heaton-I had that same experience with The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant as it's a film that I need to revisit. I don't think Fassbinder's films grab the viewer the first time around. I will try and watch this film again as I hope to do more next year and in the years to come.

Unknown said...

Brilliant film. This is actually the only Fassbinder I've seen. Reminds me that I really need to catch up.

thevoid99 said...

@Bonjour-This is my 2nd Fassbinder film that I've seen. I need to figure out what I need to see for the next year. I hope to include some Fassbinder as I have Lola in my DVR queue.