September 26, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul)

By |2018-03-21T18:40:00+01:00April 10th, 2010|Reviews|


Date: 1974

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Starring: Brigitte Mira, El Hedi Ben Salem, Barbara Valentin, Irm Hermann


enophobic tensions burst when a white, postmenopausal cleaning lady falls for a much younger Moroccan boxer in 1974’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” Directed in unflinching, color-rich hyper-reality by prolific German Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982), the film uses a forbidden love story to help expose the racism that Fassbinder believed still lingered among Germans some 30 years after the end of the Nazi era.

Aging Emmi (Brigitte Mira) steps inside an immigrant bar one evening to escape the rain. Her lonesomeness attracts Ali (the somber-eyed El Hedi Ben Salem, Fassbinder’s then-lover), who asks Emmi to dance on a jealous dare from his Moroccan girlfriend. Dancing leads to talking, and talking leads to the discovery of a mutual sadness. Both feel like outcasts in their West German neighborhood. Despite the cruel ogling of Ali’s friends, the unlikely pair escapes that night to Emmi’s home. Without hesitation they later marry. The union nauseates all those in Emmi’s life: her adult son kicks in her television screen, and her coworkers stop talking to her. But since displacement brought the newlyweds together, discrimination only amplifies their love — until Emmi’s family and friends (without much explanation) start talking to her again.

The film’s full mystique emerges once Emmi regains the acceptance of her friends. It’s a tug-of-war between Emmi’s lifelong desire to be adored by her fellow Germans and Ali’s sense of complacency among his familiar Moroccan friends.

Perhaps the most affecting scene is when Emmi walks in on a naked Ali in the shower. She tells him in a whisper that he is beautiful, then shuts the door. In that quiet moment their innocence prevails over all else.

About the Author:

Lauren Jurgensen graduated with a degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Mary Washington. When she wasn't studying the coming-of-age rituals of West Africans, she was writing daily for local papers in the Washington, D.C.-Metro area. A passion for spreading the word about world cinema eventually led her to become president of the campus film club. There, she insisted on screening Italian crime dramas and the Rome-set films of director Federico Fellini. She lives in Virginia, where she writes haiku, bikes, and builds an endless personal library of books and vinyl records.