Monday, December 05, 2005

Day 66: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

A marvelous, understated film about an unlikely love affair between an elderly German woman and a much younger Arab man, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul reminds me of why I like movies.  The way it's so matter-of-factly and economically shot and cut, it feels like peering into the lives of these people through some kind-of magic, rectangular window.  The movie's efficiency never makes it feel so insular that the characters have no lives outside the frame, indeed, that's one of its strengths, but it certainly lends a feeling that the camera has captured the moments that matter, the most important moments in the story of how these two people came to love one another.

They're both residents of a German town, one that seems sapped of happiness.  The movie's opening scene takes place in a bar where people are drinking, but seem to find no enjoyment in it.  The elderly woman, Emmi, enters, and is regarded with suspicion and reproach.  She clearly doesn't belong there, has only stepped in to get out of the rain, and doesn't know whether she wants a cola or a beer.  Everyone, Emmi included, looks drained, worn down by life, photographed in such a way that wrinkles and runny mascara defy any notions of glamour.    

Among a group of Arabs in the bar, Ali is encouraged to dance with Emmi in order to make her feel more comfortable.  He agrees and the two engage in an awkward dance, talk to each other about their lives, connecting on a level of loneliness and a desperate desire for empathetic human contact.  When the dance is over, they continue talking, he goes home with her, and stays the night.  Despite the fierce racism of Emmi's associates, friends, and family, they continue seeing one another and eventually get married.

These early scenes are inspiring, charming, and almost overbearingly sweet.  It's wonderful to see these two lonely souls find each other and rousing to watch them flaunt social convention in defense of their love.  The hangover of Nazi Germany is omnipresent (Emmi was a member of the Nazi party and speaks of Hitler in the same reserved, yet non-denouncing way that some former Nixon supporters do) as is the prejudice against Arab people due to the events at the 1972 Munich Olympics.   Everyone who disapproves of the relationship claims, "It won't last," and, yet, the happiness that Emmi and Ali bring to each other and the contrasting misery the other people live in is so well delineated, you can't help but need their relationship to last.

For a while, it seems that the movie may be a simple fairy tale about the way integrated relationships invariably produce more harmony between people of different races, but it's got better, more complex, more interesting things to say.  The relationship hits a snag when the two no longer have anything to fight against, and both begin drifting apart from one another, returning to the loneliness that brought them together in the first place.  It's difficult and frustrating to watch, seeing these two people who once communicated so openly and simply with one another unable to speak to each other.  But, ultimately, when the film brings the two back together in the place where they met, the movie's point is that lasting relationships require their participants to reeducate themselves about who they're paired with.  It's a beautiful, touching thing to watch, fantastically captured by all involved.  

I loved this movie with every fiber of my being.  It may be one of my personal all-time favorites, something further reflection will no doubt illuminate.  I'll know in a year.


zora said...

and isn't it kind of sad to know that the main actress brigitte mira later became popular through a tv series about three ladies selling frenchfries and bratwurst?

DB said...

I agree whole-heartedly, this is one of the all-time greats. I would put it in my top 25 of all time.