ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL

“The fish, even in the fishermen’s net, still carries the smell of the sea.”

                  – Morris Bargouti

Is it possible for two people to fall in love? Anybody, young or old, to meet by chance in the rain, and to dance together? Which words, which images, do we need, to describe love? And how does love appear to others? Does it matter? Do we care? Perhaps we do, and perhaps we don’t. 

Fassbinder is a vicious critic of humanity. He sees us, in all our stupid muddiness, and our purity. Perhaps because he was so absolutely an outsider, an interloper. He was gay, a drug-user and fucked foreign men, at a time when none of these things were accepted. He understood what it meant to be hated by a great many people. He filmed the underground, the subterranean, the illicit. And then he died, after 14 remarkable years, and 32 films.

Fear Eats the Soul is a story that could be told today, in a world crawling back into the waiting arms of intolerance. An elderly woman and a Moroccan man, much younger, fall in love and marry. The couple are surrounded by bigotry. They cannot buy food from a supermarket. The woman’s friends stop talking to her. But they are in love. They have each other. They will continue, or perish, together.

The film concerns an irreducible truth: we come to be the person that other people see, regardless of our own perception of ourselves. We are a composite of what others say and think about us, as individuals and groups of peoples. Ali is a foreigner. His existence is one of displacement. Powerless, he comes to be the hatred that he sees. He cannot help but embody hatred. Our alienation from ourselves must be terrible when stripped of everything we know and understand. It is then that fear eats the soul. The love of a beautiful soul is the only thing that can save us. Or so we hope.

The film is unimaginably tender, while being also beautifully emotionless. That two people can care for each other, two people who are not like each other, is love, of a primordial kind. Fassbinder made many films, and this is one of the best. 

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