Not rated, but there is full on nudity and there are recurring moments of adultery in the movie. Also, the film is just full of racism mainly because it is a criticism of racists in Germany. There's a lot of drinking and smoking. While tonally, it may be innocent, there are just many moments that scream adult content. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
I don't know why I'm dragging my feet to write about this. I have plenty to say about it. Maybe I'm just sleepy. Sleepiness often kicks my butt when it comes to being productive, so I guess some of this is my fault. But if I want to breathe out and get my other stuff done, I need to use my little amount of time and write about Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.
One of the greatest bummers about HBO Max was the fact that it had all this great content, but I couldn't stream it to my downstairs TV. That's where I watch most of the movies that I write about on this blog. It's while I exercise that I do these things, so I really wanted to make sure that I could watch some of the quality content available while I work out. But luckily for me and many other Fire Stick owners, HBO Max is now available. So I said, "Watch something on HBO Max and the first movie that tickles your fancy, watch it." Now, I knew the name Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. I knew it was one of the Criterion movies that was on HBO Max. But I knew very little else about it. It's always intimidating, going in completely blind. But then I found out that Fassbinder directed this. It took me a second to place why I knew Fassbinder. I had seen a handful of his films, but the most notable was Berlin Alexanderplatz. So at least I had a foothold.
If I was to leave after saying one line about this film, it would have to be that I can't stop thinking that this is a more tonally serious version of Harold and Maude, but with a lot of extra racism involved. Germany's post-World War II attitude towards racism is oddly rarely discussed. We all know that deep sense of nationalism that led to Hitler's rise to power, coupled with the notion that he massaged this resentment of the other into a furor. (I refuse to make the pun happen there.) But rarely do we see the shift happen from the end of the war to something like Ali, the mid-1970s. In my head, for some reason, I thought it was going to be an environment of overcompensation. Perhaps realizing that the world had attributed intense racism to Germany, there would be open-mindedness in spades, but Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is quite the opposite. If anything, Ali might be one of the films to point out that, just because the war was lost by Germany, hearts and prejudices run deeper. I mean, I'm more than a little worried that we're going to see the same thing here in the United States post-Trump. Just because regimes fall it doesn't matter to the inhabitants of a country like Germany. Fassbinder injects almost every character, including the protagonists, with at least some degree of xenophobia. Everyone in Emmi's life has a strong opinion on keeping the races separate. Emmi herself, even though she is the most open to change and love with Ali, can't divorce the notion that she's attracted to a minority to simply seeing him as a man.
Emmi is the least damning, but we see moments where she can't help but bring in that philosophy into things she does. There's a plot shift when Emmi brings home her co-workers to meet Ali. Ali is forced to put on a show for these women. Emmi's primary internal conflict is balancing what she knows is right, which is embracing the fact that she should find value in her marriage instead of outside sources, and maintaining the semblance of her old life. It's worthy of empathy. But when the women of her work embrace Ali in the way that they know how, it's oddly dehumanizing. It would actually be better if the women had chosen to scorn him because outright racism throughout the film actually causes Emmi and Ali to find solace with each other. But Emmi treats him like the exception to the rule in this moment. I mean, it's not as overtly racist as the other people in Emmi's life, but that also might be dangerous by itself. Ali pulls the same card on Emmi. When Emmi shows up at the shop looking for him, he full on pulls a Judas. At least Emmi attempted to do the right thing and failed. Ali actually gets a full belly laugh out of his actions. It's a shot that shows everyone, but the first Moroccan grandmother joke makes Ali laugh. The second doesn't, but Emmi's gone by that point.
Listen, I White Knight on this page all the time. I'm aware of it. I'm about to go a little outside the box on the following thinking. Fassbinder crushes it when talking about racism and agism in the movie and I won't pull any punches when it comes to that. But there are moments when the agists and the racists have sympathetic moments that kind of bum me out. Maybe I'll have to take a long look in the mirror and see if I deserve to White Knight all these situations from the comfort of my computer. I don't know. But the big one is that Emmi's family kind of has the right to be mad. I mean, Emmi's family is the worst kind of mad. They instantly go towards the race thing more than anything else. Also, calling their mom a whore is downright evil of them. Yes, Emmi is a grown woman who can make her own choices, but that marriage is rushed as can be. I don't care who she marries. That's not the important thing. The family has a right to be mad because they have a new father and know nothing about him. Heck, Emmi knows nothing about Ali by the time she marries him. She had no idea that couscous would have such a tempting influence on him. There's a reason that there's a long term dating period. Making major choices like that at the height of emotional bliss is just a terrible idea and it plays out pretty poorly here because of it. But these grown children have a new father. Their relationship with their mother has fundamentally changed, regardless of how they received the news. It's super awkward.
There's also one moment that really bothers me. It's the idea of living up to a stereotype. I acknowledge that it is not Ali's job to be the representative for all Moroccans. That's undue pressure for any one human being. Okay. But that being said, one of the racist characters insists that Ali will cheat on Emmi because those people just use women for sex. Of course, it's complete nonsense and it is vitriolic. But then...he does just that. Instead of talking through his feelings, he immediately goes to the temptress character of the movie all because she knows how to make couscous. (I'm forever going to be using "couscous" as a euphemism for adultery.) He says he doesn't like her, but he keeps going back. When he leaves Emmi's apartment, he is the victim of mistreatment and has the moral high ground. But then, when he cheats, he's significantly less sympathetic. All of those comments somehow gain an odd validity. It's really gross. Then he keeps going back and it is simply expected for the two of them to have sex. He also gets blitzed, which is horrible. Because of this, Emmi only lowers her self-esteem and allows him to have these affairs because he is so lonely. Like, when she gives him permission to do that stuff, it isn't romantic for me. She just seems so desperate for companionship that she allows something atrocious to be part of the norm. And then, he just kind of gets sick? Fassbinder ends with the notion that foreigners in Germany die from stress given their daily lifestyles? That's just a sour note to a whole bunch of bleakness.
There's one moment that really reads like an unfired Chekhov's gun. Emmi and Ali's neighbors hate Ali and try getting rid of him for the majority of the film. It's all old turds being racist for a long time. But then there's one moment where Emmi's neighbor asks Ali to put a bunch of her son's stuff in Emmi's storage area while he's in Norway. It really reads like this plot to accuse Ali of stealing, but it just goes nowhere? Why is this scene in there? Is it to say that people will still ask for favors even though that they don't like you? Is it part of the montage of normalcy that eventually befalls everyone? I don't know.
Anyway, I liked the movie a lot. Going in blind was probably the best choice.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.