Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Institute History

  • 1997 Sundance Film Festival


One of Fassbinder’s most popular and admired films, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul combines a May-December love story with the director’s usual sharply satirical analysis of the narrow prejudice and opportunistic manipulation prevalent in German society. When she seeks refuge from a rainstorm in a bar frequented by foreigners, sixtyish widow Emmi (Brigitte Mira) meets Ari (El Hedi ben Salem), a Moroccan worker more than twenty years younger. Drawn together by their loneliness, the two decide to marry, a move that is met by prejudice and rejection on every side.

As long as the isolation continues, Emmi and Ari find solace in each other; however, as is usual with Fassbinder, the film has an ironic twist. Eventually family and neighbors decide they need the pair to do things for them and attempt to repair the breach. With no external pressure to bond them, Emmi and Ari start to drift apart.

The film bears a not-coincidental resemblance to Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. Fassbinder greatly admired the German Hollywood director’s ability to combine mainstream melodramatic entertainment with penetrating social criticism and tried to emulate it. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is one of Fassbinder’s most accessible films. The style is natural and straightforward, and the characters are fully developed and sympathetic. Fassbinder leaves the ending unresolved, but there is a glimmer of hope for some happiness in the future, a rare occurrence in his films.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

  • Section: Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Modern Renaissance Man
  • Film Type: Dramatic Feature
  • Country: Germany
  • Run Time: 93 min.
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