Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (West Germany, 1974)

Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Maybe it was all the talk about All That Heaven Allows that kicked this one up the priority ladder for me, but I’m glad I finally got around to seeing this. Really, any good excuse to bump up my Fassbinder. This is definitely one of the most interesting movies I’ve seen in a long time, because it’s a straightforward, relatively stripped-down and direct romantic drama, in the vein of Sirk’s melodrama, but Fassbinder chose a kind of taboo relationship that would be specific to Germany in the 70’s. And even though there’s nominally a kind of Hollywood classicism going on, anyone who’s seen Fassbinder can tell you that the narrative will never be cushioned in the comfortable blanket of Hollywood the way that even a unique genius like Sirk was. Maybe the most striking thing about this relationship is the onscreen chemistry between the leads. By the standards that I’ve been raised on, it’s hardly any chemistry at all, there’s all that Brechtian distancing, which to most North American audiences, I would guess comes across as a general German “weirdness”. If they stuck it through a bit more, they’d discover that it’s actually a general Fassbinder weirdness, but close enough. There is something kind of unsettling the entire time, and I don’t mean eerie—there’s something kind of awkward and funny in this little fable, even though it’s actually a very sad story as it all unfolds. Like its nominal source, it’s a movie about how senselessly cruel people can be, how senselessly judgmental and unfeeling society makes people. There are a lot of things that make a Fassbinder film so distinct, but surely this strange mix of laughable awkwardness paired with painful social truths is one of them. This is definitely one of the great films.

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