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Saturday, June 2, 2012
Rainer Werner Fassbinder | Angst essen Seel auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (writer and director) Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul) / 1974
While underlining their simple pleasure with one another's company, Fassbinder also deepens the psychological underpinnings of Fear Eats the Soul by first showing Emmi frozen out of conversation with her cleaning-women friends, but later, after being reaccepted into their little claque, herself rejecting a new worker from Yugoslavia. When the neighbors, who have previously shunned her and her new husband, discover that he is useful to help move things to the basement, Emmi shows off her lover to the neighbor women as she might a trophy, forcing him to briefly pose as a muscle man. The language-barrier, moreover, grows deeper as the movie puts forward its narrative, rather than becoming resolved. Throughout Ali speaks in simple noun-verb expressions, which make him appear as a sort of inarticulate beast demanding, as eventually he does, "couscous." Emmi's simple statement that he must learn to get used to German food is a reassertion of all that she has previously stood against.
In short, what at first might have simply seemed as a kind of artificed presentation of social differentiations, gradually builds up into a far more complex series of concerns. If Fassbinder's long camera shots, alternated with an almost claustrophobic condensation of these two lonely people has melodramatically restated the film's themes, by the end of the movie, we begin to comprehend them as representing the yawning gaps of understanding and empathy for their very separate and different longings. Ali's drift back to the small bar and into the bed of Barbara, the bar-keeper, is a need to once again feel like the young Moroccan stud he is; and she, unlike Emmi, knows how to make couscous. But his pulling away from his wife, obviously, can only remind Emmi of her own aging face, bringing up fears of not only age, but of loss and a reminder of the emptiness of her life before she met him.
Even at this moment of great insight, just after Emmi has returned to symbolically begin anew—asking Barbara to play the same song to which she and Ali danced the first night when she darted into the place to escape the rain—Fassbinder introduces another inexplicable event that compromises her desires. Ali falls to the floor in pain, suffering, as we are told by a doctor, the results of living a life filled, not only with fear, but with the anxiousness of not knowing what is expected of him and where his life will end. The doctor's prognosis, that the patient will be cured but only temporarily, speaks volumes, predicting the brutal failures of love that Fassbinder would reveal in his films for the rest of his life.
That great sense of angst within the film, moreover, was played out in Fassbinder's real life, when in 1982—the same year as Fassbinder's death—ben Salem stabbed three people in Berlin before hanging himself in his prison cell
Los Angeles, June 1, 2012