Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - RW Fassbinder (1974)

My first Fassbinder film. Very good film. Someone recently mentioned to me that because the film is highly considered critically, they were expecting more, and so were underwhelmed by Ali. Perhaps the simplicity of the film, the subtlety of the film did not blow this person away. But I have to say that it IS the simplicity and subtlety that are so powerful about this film. The content is very simple, the story straightforward. There are no surprises, only characters doing what we expect them to do. Fassbinder pulls no punches and it is MORE powerful for that reason. The inevitability of this situation. But while the narrative follows its predetermined path, Fassbinder works tenaciously with his camera to frame the couple, while trying equally hard to hide his tricks. It is brilliant that Fassbinder is able to give us the images he does while not drawing too much attention to his camerawork: the shots through the doorways, the camera creeping up to focus on Emmi or Ali in a particular moment, the dolly shot in the bar which ends with the blonde bartender looming over Emmi, etc.

I have to say that I struggled with some of the social subject matter as the movie went on, getting caught up in the guilt that comes with any movie that addresses racism and so on, but now a few hours removed from the movie, I think the moments that are going to linger are those between Ali and Emmi when he first comes over and when "one thing leads to another" in such a lovely way, in a quiet way, that Fassbinder has already won over our hearts to prepare us for the heavier stuff to come. And really, when it comes down to it, yes the racism subject is there, but Fassbinder does not have a social message set in stone (ala Crash) with this film. This film is about two unlikely lovers whose kindness toward each other, or even, whose aspiration toward kindness, is the only thing that is worth living for in a cold, alienating world.

Ebert has an excellent essay on the film in his "Great Movies" series.

Note: I was very surprised to know post-viewing that Fassbinder plays Emmi's racist son-in-law in the film, the scum-bag Eugen.

Also, the film was shot in 15 days between two bigger budget films, Martha and Effi Brest. As Ebert says of Fassbinder, "He shot it on a shoestring." Funny how a shoestring can make for a great picture.

1 comment:

andrea said...

I was quite excited when I found out the racist guy was Fassbinder himself too. It was also my first film by him, I'll definitely be watching more.