Tuesday, June 17, 2014



Director/Screenplay: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

The leader of the New German Cinema Movement,  R.W. Fassbinder, in his short life, made dozens of feature-length films, often using few locations, and techniques similar to the Neorealists or the French New Wavers. His films were often increasingly bare, using only a few actors even in scenes where clearly, there probably should've been about twenty extras or so around, often using amateurs he may have been dating at the time, and would often challenge conventional norms in feature films, like he did with “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,” probably considered his best, even though it only took 15 days to shoot, and according to most accounts, he only made the movie to kill time between two major projects he was between shooting. 

Fassbinder directed many 90-minute features that he shot quickly, but he also made the then-longest-feature length film in history with “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” which clocks in at over 900 minutes. During the later parts of his careers, particularly with this film, he was heavily influenced by Douglas Sirk, a fellow German filmmaker who went to America to avoid exile during WWII, and would make his reputation during the 1950s, practically inventing the suburban melodrama. I’ve written on one of his films “Written on the Wind,” which I've written on for this Canon already and his film “All That Heaven Allows,” was nearly directly remade into “Ali…”, and was also recently remade, even more directly and obviously by Todd Haynes with “Far From Heaven.” 

The story of “Fear Eats the Soul,” (which is the correctly translated title, the “Ali” part was added for foreign releases) involves an older woman, a widow in her 60's, Emmi (Brigitte Mira) who walks into a bar one night to get out of the rain. Ali (El Hedi Ben Salem) a muscular, handsome Moroccan mechanic, about late 30's-early 40's. asks her to dance. (“Ali,” isn’t even his real name, it’s just a shorthand name he’s called) They fall in love, and eventually get married, despite clear and obvious objection from both sides, with her family and friends turning on her, and his Arab friends feeling disappointed he didn’t decide to be with one of them. 

More complications arise after the majority of their acquaintances begin gradually accepting them as a couple, and Ali begins hanging around the bar at nights. His affair, is more of a reflection of missing his homeland, than it is out of not being in love anymore. Emmi's family and co-workers eventually begin to grow to accept Ali, but their complicated feelings towards foreigners in Germany continue to arise. Emmi even participates in trying to get a Yugoslavian fellow cleaning lady fired, fearing her job could go. (You can see a new generation of the immigration perspective on Germany nowadays in the works of directors like Fatih Akim nowadays)  

“Fear Eats the Soul,” was re-imagined in a short film made years later called “Fear Eat Soul,” about an actor getting beat up before going to do a stage version of the film. Today, “Fear…” remains one of Fassbinder best love stories, one about the struggle to remain in love, and the difficulty in others acceptance of that love. While Fassbinder did like nudity and kitsch eroticism, from his early political films to his later works, Fassbinder used realistic characters to tell stories that cross lines of culture, race, age, and sex.  That’s one thing that’s good about the New German Filmmakers, they were all distinctive filmmakers, you never confused Fassbinder with Herzog, or Wenders or any of the others; they’re simply just great filmmakers who made great movies because they loved making movies.  Or maybe with Fassbinder's case, seemed possessed to make them, probably 'cause he knew he didn't have much time. 

"Fear Eats the Soul" was Fassbinder's first worldwide-acclaimed feature; he'd previously been mostly known in Germany before then. After his young passing, shortly after he finished his final film, "Querelle",  "Fear Eats the Soul" and well as much of his films seemed more poignantly about him. Most of the time, it seemed like his films were taking the material of soap opera melodrama and twisting them into colder, more naturalist worlds. Nowadays, they seem more autobiographical, just complete sudden bursts of pain and expression of desperation. He documented through film several a lifelong depiction of stress, sadness and sorrow, and each film is a reflection of a part of him, and almost each of them, especially these quicky ones he made, just brief tortured flints of whatever erratic feeling he had that moment.

Despite Fassbinder's tragic life, the real tragedy might be El Hedi Ben Salem, who was his lover during and after "Fear Eats the Soul". He was a Moroccan immigrant who never really managed to find he way in Germany." The title "Fear Eats the Soul" is apparently a popular Arab expression that Fassbinder got from him, and the characters in the film come together and brake apart, as well as Ben Salem's real life struggles. One night, apparently Ben Salem stabbed three people out of some drunken attempt to appease some of Fassbinder's personal issues. He never really connected with the German world and barely got ahold of the language, and he hung himself in a German prison shortly after. Fassbinder's life was a short tragedy and it was itself full of short tragedies. I don't know if "Fear Eats the Soul" is his first great one, but it's probably the best one to introduce Fassbinder to others. 

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