Monday, November 5, 2007

The Great Movies: "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Rainier Fassbinder (1974)

There are a million movies that could be described as "Romeo and Juliet with a twist," but in this one the twist is fairly extreme. Our star-crossed lovers are Elli, a 60ish German widow, and Ali, a 40ish Moroccan guest worker, and their Verona is working class Munich in the early 1970s.

Elli's peers, reared on Nazi ideology and traumatized by the slaughter, in their city, of the Israeli Olympic team by Arab operatives, are a radically xenophobic bunch. Against this grim social background, Elli and Ali play out their cards as best they can. The strength of the film is in its attention to psychological details. You often want to reach up into the screen and dope-slap one of the characters for making an obvious mistake that is going to wound the other, but the mistakes they make are the ones that real people make too, often repeatedly.

Plot: Love is a many-splendored thing. Two lonely people meet, then face a relentless flood of scorn, prejudice, and rejection. They do the best they can under the circumstances, which isn't always very good.

Visuals: Very spare, evocative, tending to emphasize the isolation of the characters.

Dialogue: Same thing. Very spare, evocative, tending to emphasize the isolation of the characters. With very little music in the soundtrack, the dialogue feels emotionally flattened, framed only by the sounds of footfalls and doors opening and closing.

Pro: Quite engrossing. Fassbinder holds your feet over the fire and really forces you to meditate on what they used to call "man's inhumanity to man."

Con: There's a good reason that most dramas introduce comic relief. Ali is only an hour and a half long, but it is so consistently pessimistic and grim that by the end you feel like you've been clubbed to death with sadness.

Prognosis: Recommended for depressive romantics, German students, and people wanting to do some good hard thinkin' about the psychology of racism and differentness.


Rebel said...

Soo... a good date movie then?

Michael5000 said...

@Rebel: depends on your date, of course!

Chance said...

I watched this movie a few years ago. Perhaps even ten years ago. From what I remember, your assessment is pretty sound. It's not depressing, exactly, just very... well, European.

mysterymoor said...

I just watched this and loved it :)

Michael5000 said...

(and here is andrea's review, if you want to see how much she loved it.)