Rainer W. Fassbinder is a German filmmaker who led a turbulent and brief life, creating many non conventional and controversial films and theatre plays. His personal experiences as a homosexual and as a non- mainstream director and actor have contributed immensely to his heightened criticism and susceptibility to the problems of minorities in Germany. 1 Fassbinder’s critical eye is sharply focused on the society and its deeply rooted prejudices, which in the decades after the Stunde Null have been successfully camouflaged and even claimed not to be existent any more.
The filmmaker in his “Ali: Angst Essen Seele Auf” (1974), performs a life dissection of the German “friendly” society, and reveals the threatening and harsh reality for foreigners and unconventionally behaving individuals. The film does not merely tackle the sore themes of racism, xenophobia, and love that does not follow the accepted mode, but takes these issues and exposes their real faces through the spot light of the camera in depth.
Fassbinder shows the blunt everyday brutality of ordinary German people towards migrant workers and Germans who accept the foreigners and others who go so “low” that even fall in love with them. It is a film that though specifically relies on the German settings in place, in time and context shows the universality of human emotions and reactions. Through the protagonist Emmi Kurowski, an elderly German cleaning lady, Fassbinder emphasizes the importance and the difficulty to face one’s family and society and express one’s opinion, especially when this differs tremendously from the expected norm.
Frau Emmi Kurowski is a widow, who does not keep close contact with her three children because they have hardly any time for her, but in spite of their ill treatment towards her, she loves and cares about them. The cleaning lady is almost sixty years old and spends her days and nights alone watching television. Frau Kurowski is not an important person for anyone, neither for her family nor for the society. Life has always been a struggle, but she never complains and does not expect compassion, maybe a little bit of understanding.
Fassbinder plants Frau Kurowski in a foreign workers friendly bar till the raging storm outside is over, as if to prove the saying that crucial things happen to people when they least expect them. And it happens to Frau Kurowski -love. But life is not meant to be easy and straightforward for her, after all the opening words in the film anticipate the main idea -“Das Glueck ist nicht immer lustig. ” The Moroccan car mechanic is almost twenty years her junior, speaks broken German and is as lonely and isolated from the social life of Bavarians as she is.
Fassbinder masterfully recreates the real day-to-day life and actions of the little ordinary people and their tragicomic feelings, even maybe reminding spectator of the Charlie Chaplin’s numb movies. The unequal love affair between Frau Kurowski and Ali is being severely scrutinized by her family and society; they are ridiculed, insulted and avoided by everyone. The couple is exposed to a constant psycho-terror-Ali is not served in the grocery store where Frau Kurowski has been shopping for over a decade, her children deny her decision to marry Ali and her colleagues do not talk to her.
Frau Kurowski feels for the first time in her life what it means to be so different that the others reject you just like a coloured foreign worker in order abiding Bavaria. Her sorrow and grief are relieved by the love and compassion Ali gives. The newly married couple takes a short trip where they hope that no one will frown upon them. Their return is rewarded with the overt acceptance of her coloured husband in the social life of her surroundings.
Of course, this acceptance is not related with any deep change in other people’ values and understandings about racism or unconventionality, but driven by the basic interdependence of everyday life’s needs. Frau Kurowski is needed as a customer in the grocery store, as a loyal colleague, and as a caring and reliable mother, so why not turn a blind eye on her “ridiculous” marriage. The marriage is expected to fall apart and once the pressure from the outside tension is eased, the couple starts to experience personal problems in their relationship.
Love requires a lot of compromises on both sides and Fassbinder shows that the internal dynamics is strongly bound with domination and submission’s mode. The filmmaker emphasizes the difficulty human beings have to overcome the drive to dominate over each other even on a private level. So the question becomes can love be possible in its romantic sense as the most sacred, beautiful and worthy feeling at all. The film is suggesting that probably this idealized state of bliss could be reached but for a brief fleeing moment and that the sacrifice needed is always greater than the happiness achieved.
Angst essen Seele auf and it goes into the physical realm of the human being-Ali’s internal bleeding is the metaphor for his suffering soul that gnaws at him literally. Ali is saved and is recovering in the hospital, Frau Emmi Kurowski is by his side loving and comforting. Maybe the ending can be interpreted as a happy Hollywood like one, but it does not solve the oppressing issues of racial intolerance, social and economic constraints that the couple still has to face once Ali is out. Rainer W.
Fassbinder explores and exposes the interlayering of the complexity of the inherited in human perception’s beliefs and reactions. The film emphasizes the economic, social, political and emotional forces that combined contribute to the detriment of the individual. Love is not presented as the utmost good and powerful force that can break the framework of domination and oppression of human beings in their society, love is just a personal escape of the drudgery of life. The film has created impressive characters and images that will stay with the spectator for long.
Fassbinder has shown the strength that is required to look into the threatening eyes of societal constraint, control, and punishment of the disobedient. The issues of hostility, rejection and abuse of people who do not fit the picture of society, due to their skin colour or sexual preferences remain current and show how little the world of bigotry has changed. The film “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” is a fascinating and terrifying blend of humans’ cruelty towards each other and a feeble ray of light that shines upon the few who try to resist this detrimental force and obtain a bit of Heaven.