Ali: Fear eats the soul (1974) – The trouble of ‘the others’

'Ali: Fear eats the soul' is a 1974 film from West Germany by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Ali, an Arab by birth, speaks the lines ' Fear eats the soul' in his incorrect german accent when he first meets Emmi. His wise statement forms the key element in how the film shapes when Ali and Emmi decide to marry.

‘Ali: Fear eats the soul’ – Movies on day to day life tend to get longer and boring when not properly handled. They look dull with no real development on the plot whatsoever. Despite that dullness, those films remind us of how we live our lives. With no big twists and mysteries, these films help us soothe on a deeper level. They nourish our souls rather than treat our eyes. 

Unfortunately, those movies need much patience from the audience’s end. Like how a great book is complete only with the corresponding mindset audience, a great movie is nothing worth unless we, the viewers, establish a connection with the movie – Be it the characters, the plot, the screenplay, etc. Unless that connection is established, the movie would mean nothing to us. 

‘Ali: Fear eats the soul’ – The beginning

At first, ‘Ali: Fear eats the soul’ looks like one such movie. It’s opening shot feels so dull and lifeless. As Emmi enters the bar and orders a cola, the setting looks so drama-like. Emmi’s way of speaking, the artificial inhospitality-look on the waitress’ face, and the other drinkers’ statue-like appearances, who stare straight at Emmi – all turn us off. 

But, that only turns out to be a momentary disappointment. As Emmi gets her Cola, one of the statued-drinkers, Ali, approaches Emmi. He asks her to dance with him. Surprised that a young man who seems younger than her son asks her to dance, she denies his hand. However, on his further insistence, she agrees and gets to dance with him. As they dance in front of the amused audience, they get to know each other a bit. 

Their meeting changes the course of their lives and the film. What follows is a brilliant development of affection between Emmi and Ali. The simple introduction of the characters and the natural advancement of their passion for each other is poetic. The opening of the film perfectly glimpses the essence of the whole film.

Ali - Fear eats the soul - Emmi and Ali
Ali: Fear eats the soul – Emmi and Ali

This first scene happens for quite a few minutes. Starting with a slow stare of Emmi at the people in the bar, this scene develops into a beautiful meeting of two unrelated strangers. All the while, it establishes the problem on which the film focuses on.

The problem

Stares: Yes, the stares of the people play a key role in the film. As Emmi’s stare at Ali blossoms into love, the stares of the ‘others’ at them breaks apart their affection. As Ali’s eyes stare at Emmi towards the end of the film, there is very little love left in them in his garage.  

The initial scene has all the stares packaged within. As Emmi enters the bar, all the Arabs seated at the bar throw a prolonged stare at her. In turn, her stare does a full circle as she scans the Arabs. As Ali gets closer to Emmi, they stare at each other. As they both dance together, the Arabs stare at them with amused and confused eyes. They momentarily split up, only to meet each other at Emmi’s home. 

This scene, in fact, sums up the movie. 

Fighting against the Odds

As Ali and Emmi get closer to each other, they face opposition from Emmi’s family, neighbours, and Ali’s workers. They face the ‘stares’ from their dear ones—Emmi’s sons and daughter storm out of her home on hearing her marriage proposal. Emmi and Ali, however, stand by their decision firmly.

As they fight against the odds and society, their relationship begins to weaken. The ever innocent Ali gets bored with the life he lives with Emmi and goes around looking for other pleasures. Gradually, Ali finds it difficult to live with Emmi and moves out of her home. He finds solace in sleeping with the bartender.

There is a heart-wrenching scene where Emmi finds Ali at his workplace after he fails to return home. As she pleads with Ali to return home, his friends make fun of Emmi. Without any regard for them, she keeps staring at Ali. As their friends call her his grandma, Ali joins them and laughs along. Emmi is shattered. She bows down and walks back to her home. 

But, after a brief hiatus, Ali does come back to Emmi. This is again beautifully captivated in the second bar scene of the movie. After all, life is a cycle. You get back to the same spot again and again. Whether you remain the same person within is the answer to happiness. The film reunites Ali and Emmi in the same bar where they first met each other, albeit with a twist. The film makes a full circle with that scene. However, both Ali and Emmi aren’t the same persons from when they first met.

Ali: Fear eats the soul - Ali
Ali: Fear eats the soul – Ali

The ‘Others’

Now comes the question of what changed them. Why do people like Ali and Emmi have always to struggle to survive? They fight for their survival not only in the literal term but also more in a self introspective term. Their relationship gets torn apart purely from the hatred they face in their daily lives from society. Two souls attracted to each other were separated because of Fear – The Fear of people and society.

Ali, an Arab, is a foreigner in the lands of Germany. Though the Arabs entered at the time of Hitler’s regime, they are still considered a minority immigrant group. And, as is the case everywhere, they are not under good terms. Germans and Arabs are under hatred for quite a long time now. That hatred kills the two souls who were united through love.

As a group, we have developed borders amongst ourselves that prevent others from entering and trying to become a part of us. Those borders are becoming infinitely bigger, and the biggest problem is that they are invisible. That invisible border kills innocent souls. 

‘Ali: Fear eats the soul’ is a well-made film. The film deserves a rewatch for its pure innocence that gets delicately executed by the actors. Ali and Emmi take us through an emotional ride, powered by love, and drops us with a heavy heart.

As Ali ingeniously says at the beginning of the film, ‘Fear kills the Soul’, Ali’s soul gets killed by his Fear. How is that for irony?

Check out other movies from The Art Muser’s EUFF special

Ali: fear eats the soul
Ali: fear eats the soul

Ali: Fear eats the soul

Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Country Germany

Language – German

Year 1974

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