“With people like that in the house, dirt takes over.”
A widowed German housecleaner (Brigitte Mira) falls in love with a much-younger Moroccan mechanic (El Hedi ben Salem), but the couple’s May-December, cross-cultural romance must withstand constant scrutiny and prejudice from their neighbors, friends, and family.
- Cross-Cultural Romance
- Fassbinder Films
- German Films
- Marital Problems
- May-December Romance
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “for those who consider the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder too esoteric and perverse, here is one that has universal appeal”; in fact, “it was Fassbinder’s breakthrough film internationally, the reason many people worldwide were willing to examine his more difficult, less accessible films.” He writes that “the couple is strong enough to endure” the “constant racial prejudice [Salem] and other Arabs in Germany are subjected to, but in time Mira’s own prejudices surface and threaten to shatter the marriage”. He concludes his review by noting that this remains “a simple, extremely poignant film, all the more fascinating because Fassbinder deals with racial prejudice in modern Germany — against Arabs, not Jews.” Indeed, Mira and Salem’s unique cross-cultural romance remains as touching and relevant as ever — perhaps even more so in the early 21st century, as Europe’s demographics continue to shift contentiously.
Mira is perfectly cast in the central female role, and fans will definitely want to check out the 2003 interview with her on Criterion’s digital restoration DVD. Salem’s personal story (he was Fassbinder’s lover in real life) mirrors his onscreen tragedy, albeit on an even more catastrophic scale; I’d love to find a copy of the 2012 documentary about him entitled My Name is Not Ali, but haven’t had any luck so far. Suffice it to say that this films reminds us how being an “outsider” — whether older, darker-skinner, less-attractive, foreign, lower-class, gay — remains an ongoing challenge for many (if not most) humans across the globe. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is simultaneously a balm for one’s heart (“When we’re together, we must be nice to each other — otherwise, life’s not worth living.”) and a cautionary tale that our souls are hardly free from the xenophobic fear “Ali” warns us of.
Note: Peary writes that “Fassbinder admired the work of Douglas Sirk, and critics were quick to point out the film’s similarity to Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows,” as well as themes from Sirk’s Imitation of Life.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Brigitte Mira as Emmi
- Many memorable, poignant scenes
- Rich cinematography
Yes, as a foreign classic.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)