Fear Eats the Soul (1974) | Angst essen Seele auf | Dual Format release
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem, Barbara Valentin, Irm Hermann
94min | Drama | Germany
Long before Ulrich Seidl (Paradise Love) or Laurent Cantet (Vers le Sud) captured transracial intergenerational love on the screen, Fassbinder exposes the xenophobic underbelly of ’70s West German society through a surprising romance between a Polish German cleaner in her sixties and a Moroccan Berber immigrant twenty years her junior.
Arabs are family loving-people and, far away from home and lonely in a foreign country, Ali (ben Salem) finds the comforting presence of a mature and modest woman attractive. Emmi Kurowski (Mira) clearly adores him, flattering his ego with her subtle brand of charm. The two strike up an uncomplicated relationship in the confines of her small flat and the local restaurant where Ali works, and soon decide to get married. Ali is fascinated by Emmi’s calm self-assurance and her love of food and good coffee. Their simple wedding takes place against the rainy backdrop of a grim Munich and afterwards they enjoy dinner in a local gourmet restaurant. Emmi’s family regard Ali with savage mistrust, her son kicking in the television in anger before walking they all walk out. It gradually emerges that the local community are also scandalised by the marriage; shops often refusing to serve Ali.
Brigitte Mira and El Hedi ben Salem give sombre yet affecting turns as the doomed romantic couple: Fassbinder accentuates the disapproving visual expressions and hostile body language of his support cast to reflect their feelings of disdain, pushing this ordinary social realist drama into the realms of melodrama on occasion, as in the cafe scene where Mira breaks down sobbing as the staff look on, standing in pseudo military formation. Wildly prolific in his output, Fassbinder was a fan of his compatriot Douglas Sirk and this is in some ways a tribute to Sirk’s Hollywood-style melodrama. Fassbinder shot the political and social statement in only 15 days and also appears in cameo as Emmi’s weasel-like son-in-law. MT
SHOWING AT PART OF A BFI FASSBINDER RETROSPECTIVE | OUT ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM AND VIDEO