Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder / West Germany, 1974):
(Angst essen Seele auf)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder doesn’t haggle, right away he has Germany in the person of a sixtysomething widow out of the rain and into a proletarian tavern for soda and Arabian music. The pub is like every other place, a grid of power plays, a barfly’s taunt leads to the slow dance between a Moroccan garage mechanic (El Hedi ben Salem) and a lonely cleaning woman twice his age (Brigitte Mira). She and her husband back in the day were in the Nazi Party ("everyone was, just about," she shrugs), work and drink and pidgin aphorisms ("German master, Arab dog ... think much, cry much") comprise the immigrant’s life in Munich. At her apartment the scene passes from brandy-lubricated commiseration to a furtive caress, and dissolves the following morning to Mira’s expression of comic disbelief as she awakens next to the muscled visitor. (Even funnier is her face when a marriage proposal blurted out as an excuse to the landlord is accepted by her new beau with a nod and a toast.) "I’m so happy and so full of fear..." "Fear eats the soul." Sirk lays the groundwork with All That Heaven Allows, though Fassbinder also remembers Aldrich’s forthrightness in Autumn Leaves, they’re all boiled into a magnificently laconic distillate of taboo and conformism. Wedding dinner alone before peeling olive-green frescoes is just the beginning of the couple’s ostracization, the announcement at a family gathering ends with their TV set methodically shattered by one of her mortified children. Crunching planar arrangements, characters stapled between columns or to frames within frames, De Stijl lines that seem to tighten with each pan of the camera. Prejudices don’t so much fade away as adjust with time, the grocer’s disdain gives way to flattery and a coworker’s twitch of repulsion morphs into a patronizing leer; the heroine herself must play her part and loses her beloved to a plate of couscous. The closing sequence at the hospital brings together ulcerous stomach and cracked heart, a tableau befitting an artist so filled with acid and tenderness. Cinematography by Jürgen Jürges. With Irm Hermann, Barbara Valentin, Elma Karlowa, Peter Gauhe, and Katharine Herberg.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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