In the film “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” Fassbinder tells the story of Emmi and Ali, a couple that is mismatched from all appearances and on the basis of gender, race, and age. Emmi is a 60-year-old white woman, and Ali is a 40-year-old brown skinned Moroccan man. This match seems unlikely because of those traits but more importantly, because of the bigoted attitudes of the German people during the era in which the film takes place. It is initially difficult to pinpoint exactly which of those qualities elicit the most extreme responses from all the people that surround this couple, between her children, his friends, the people that surround them in the bar in which they meet, and the external world overall. As the movie unfolds, however, it becomes clear that the thing that most offends others is the racial difference between the couple.
Wherever Ali and Emmi go, they tend to be greeted with hostility and overt contempt, and this constant reaction causes Emmi to suffer from a breakdown. One would think that in post-World War II Germany, tolerance would be not only the rule but almost a mandate, given the history of that country and its bigotry during the 20th century. This film clearly portrays an image that not much may have changed since World War II, except that possibly attitudes are not quite as covert. However, in this film the racist attitudes are there, on the surface and are blatantly directed towards the couple. Most of the reaction appears to emanate from the racial difference between the couple, although as in the case with Emmi’s children, age certainly plays a role in their extreme disapproval of the relationship. The gender issue arises throughout in that if the same relationship were to occur between an older man and a young woman, it is unlikely that there would be an equivalent level of hostility towards that couple.
The issue of gender is portrayed in the movie, not only because of the misogyny regarding an older woman dating a younger man, but in the way it takes a stand against treating women as objects, an early feminist statement (Canby.) Emmi complains that her lover doesn’t really know her at all, he doesn’t listen. She claims that males believe that they know females only if they had seen them naked; in addition, men feel that if someone has seen their genitals, they can virtually read their minds. Despite the fact that the sexual attraction between the couple is unmistakable, Emmi subtly escapes from Ali’s needs to be authoritative with her, his intense determination to establish her as a second wife, and to create another middle-class home.
Still, the overarching problem in the movie revolves around race. . The name “Ali” is not even the real name of the character, but instead it is a generic name given to dark skinned foreign workers in Germany (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.) Discrimination and hate are clearly entrenched in the German culture, and is not only expressed by the citizens that are older. Indeed, the older people are the worst bigots, making comparisons between Arabs and swine, and making demands that they be removed from the country. However, Emmi’s children also react in the same way. Her son-in-law refers to foreigners as “pigs” while he reclines in his chair in clothes that are unwashed, drinking beer, and grunting at his wife like a caveman.
The patrons in the bar are segregated according to their race, the Germans huddling together and the Moroccans in their own space. The xenophobia in this film pervades it throughout, and is intergenerational: when Emmi mentions that her father, who supported the Nazis, hated her first husband who was Polish, simply because he was foreign, it is clear that the bigotry began a long time ago and continues into the present day. Gender and age are certainly significant issues in this film, but the overall theme that pervades the entire work is bigotry based on racial differences.
- “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” 27 April 1997. Roger Ebert.com. Web. 3 October 2016.
- Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Dir. Rainer Fassbinder. Perf. Rainer Fassbinder. 1974. Film.
- Canby, Vincent. “At the Film Festival: ” ‘Ali’ “, Fassbinder Explores Racial Prejudice.” 7 October 1974. The New York Times.com. Web. 3 October 2016.