FEAR EATS THE SOUL

Angst essen Seele auf

 (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1974) 93 minutes

FEAR EATS THE SOUL

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Producer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Screenplay: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Photography: Jurgen Jurges
Editor: Thea Eymes
Brigitte Mira (Emmi)
El Hedi Ban Salem (Ali)
Barbara Valentin (Barbara)
Irm Hermann (Krista)

Reviews and notes

Festivals can discover, festivals can consecrate. This year there have been precious few discoveries at Cannes - none in the main festival - but one important consecration, that of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. A few of us have been writing aboout him for the past three years, but by and large, no one has paid much attention. This year, however, Fassbinder's newest film got into the main competition, and I wouldn't be surprised if it walked off with some kind of prize.

Of course, this is a simpler, easier film for audiences, than, say, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. It succeeds in telling a basic human-interest story without ever falling into sentimentality. The title, however, is difficult: literally, it translates as Fear eat up Soul, and that is because the hero of the film is a Moroccan worker in Munich and his German is not too good. The French, always suspicious of any liberties with their language, quite blithely retitled it All the Others are Called Ali.

In this, his eighteenth film (and he's not yet 30), Fassbinder has achieved an almost classic style which looks almost as if it could have been made 30 years ago - but not quite. The story is of the simplest: a 60-year-old widow, a cleaning woman, meets by chance a 30-year-old Moroccan. Emmi finds Ali pleasant, especially when, on a dare, he asks her to dance. She invites him home for a drink, and to his own surprise Ali accepts.

To her astonishment, he makes love to her; in fact, they settle down to having an affair. She can't believe it at first: an old woman like herself with such a handsome young man. Her family and her neighbours can't believe it either, and when they do start to believe it they are furious. Her son kicks in her TV screen, and the daughter walks out. Doesn't she know she's making a fool of herself, doesn't she know that "they" are dirty, that "they" are lazy? But Emmi perseveres, and they get married. Their troubles are not over, however, because even when the neighbours and family start to calm down, Ali has a few difficulties adjusting to life with a woman old enough to be his mother. But the film ends happily and convincingly so.

This may sound like a goody-goody fable of inter-racial marriage, or a tract for tolerance, but it is a lot more. Fassbinder, who comes from the theatre, has a genius for choosing and directing actors, a genius for making simple dialogue sound like something engraved on stone. Partly this is because he believes in it all: Of course old Emmi is a little ridiculous, but one feels that Fassbinder thinks her no more ridiculous than he, Fassbinder, or the rest of us are. There is total sympathy between the creator and his creations.

For some, the film was too artful, for others, too naive. For me, it is netther: although there are elements of "camp" in Fassbinder's view of life, somehow through the kitsch there shines something very rare in the cinema, something which I can only call a moral radiance. And if that sounds silly, I'm sorry.
-Richard Roud, The Guardian, May 22 1974.

This film won the International Critics' Prize at the Cannes Festival 1974.

Weblink: Roger Ebert Review

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