Rainer Werner Fassbinder was one of the most important representatives of the New German Movement as he was known to film at a frenetic pace. In a professional career that lasted less than fifteen years, Fassbinder completed 40 feature-length films, three short films, two television film series, four video productions, twenty-four stage plays, four radio plays and 36 acting roles in his own and others’ films. And yet Fassbinder's most appreciative and respected film was Ali: Fear Eats the Soul which tells the simple story on two people who love one another, and are completely different in age and race. The bigotry and hate that these two receive from others only because of simply trying to express their love publicly is heartbreaking, as you see two people who clearly want to be together, and yet friends, family and society won't allow it. The most iconic scene in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is when Emmi informs her children that she has gotten married. Fassbinder uses the camera lens to zoom and pan across the silent shocked faces of her children, as one son whirls around in his chair, stands up and then kicks in the screen of her television set. This sequence is not only a direct homage to Douglas Sirk's soapy melodrama All That Heaven Allows, but it is Sirk's classic which originally inspired Fassbinder to make the film. Most of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's themes deal with people who are outsiders of society, probably because Fassbinder felt he himself was an outsider struggling with his homosexuality since he was a young boy. His father died when he was very young, and his mother used the movie theater as a baby-sitter. After starting out in theatre and eventually moving into films many critics thought his films were exploitative on a persons sexuality, but over time Fassbinder's work is now looked at as some of the most important and poetic films of the early 70's to the late 80's. [fsbProduct product_id='730' size='200' align='right']If Fassbinder loved the older melodramatic American soaps of Douglas Sirk it was probably because his personal life seemed to play out like a soap as well. El Hedi ben Salem who played Ali in the film was Fassbinder's lover from 1971 to 1974, though he also had a wife and two children in Morocco, and during this period he played several roles in Fassbinder's films. One night while intoxicated, Salem seriously injured three people by stabbing them multiple times. He then came back to Fassbinder and said, "Now you don't have to be afraid anymore." He was then deported to France, where he later hung himself in prison. By the time Fassbinder made his last film, Querelle in 1982 in which he dedicated the film to Salem, Fassbinder was using heavy doses of drugs and alcohol to sustain his unrelenting work schedule. On the night of June 9th 1982, he was found in his apartment lying on the bed, dead, a cigarette still between his lips. The cause of death was reported as a heart attack resulting from a lethal combination of sleeping pills and cocaine. Unfortunately sometimes fact can sound more like a soap than fiction.
The film begins as an older German woman walks into a bar to get out of the rain. She takes a seat at a table and a blond barmaid walks over and the older woman says, "I pass by here every morning and hear foreign music. What language are they singing in?" The barmaid says, "Arabic." The woman then orders a Coke. Everyone's eyes from the bar are directed towards the old woman. The barmaid dares one of her customers to ask the old lady to dance. Ali a young built Arabic man accepts the challenge and walks over to ask her. The woman accepts and the younger foreigner and older German woman slowly dance together while everyone's eyes stare at these two who couldn't be more completely different within age, race and culture. What follows after the beginning dance scene is the man offering to walk the woman home.
When arriving at her apartment she invites him in for coffee and he accepts. They slowly develop a strong bond as she tells him her name is Emmi Kurowski. His friends call him Ali but it's not his real name. His real name is El Hedi ben Salem M-Barek Mohammed Mustapha. Emmi says, "That's pretty long." He gently smiles and says, "In Tismit all names long." Ali is about 40 and works as a garage mechanic in Morocco. He lives in a room with five other Arabs and describes his life simply as,"Always work, always drunk.'' Emmi Kurowski is around 60 and is a widow who works two shifts as a building cleaner; which she believes her profession is looked down upon. She has several children who are married and never come to see her and she is usually alone.
"It's good to talk to someone. I'm alone most of the time. My children have their own lives."
"With us in Morocco family always together. Mama alone not good. Other countries have other customs."
"You should wear lighter colored suits, Ali. They'd look better on you."
"Dark clothes look so sad, don't they?"
Emmi invites Ali up to her apartment to stay a while and have a drink. They eventually talk about family and Emmi says how her father hated all foreigners and was a member of the Nazi party. "Arabs not human in Germany," Ali says. Still raining outside she decides to let Ali spend the night so he doesn't have to walk home in the rain as she sets up a separate sleeping area for him. That night he comes into her room and says he can't sleep and wants to talk. Their's a poignant moment where he slowly takes Emmi's hand and caresses her arm as they comfort each other in silence. The next morning Emmi looks at herself in the mirror, looking at her age, lines and wrinkles and starts to cry realizing she's fallen in love. When Ali appears behind her they both collapse in each others arms.
"Don't cry. Please."
"Because I'm so happy and so full of fear too."
"Not fear. Fear not good. Fear eats soul."
Later that morning they both leave to go to their separate jobs and Emmi's gossipy neighbors notice him leaving her apartment. That day at work Emmi's cleaning ladies are talking about how all foreigners are filthy pigs with sex on the brain and Emmi tries to come to their defense by saying, "But they work! That's what they're here for.'' Fassbinder plays a small part as Emmi's rude, racist son-in-law and when Emmi comes to visit her daughter she straight out tells the both of them she's in love with a younger man. Her German co-workers don't like their foreign workers but at the same time they don't want to collect their own garbage.
That night when heading home Ali is their at her place waiting for her. He spends the night once again and the next morning the landlord's son stops by to point out that sub-letting is against Emmi's tenancy agreement and Ali must leave within a day, but she claims Ali and herself are planning to marry to ease this little difficulty. After he leaves Ali likes the idea of marriage even though Emmi was just saying that to get the landlord of her back. When she realizes Ali does want to marry her they decide to celebrate with his Arab buddies at the bar.
That night celebrating the barmaid and another woman are secretly gossiping about Emmi saying, "the filthy old whore. I'll never work out. It's unnatural." After getting married Emmi calls all her children over to announce her marriage and there's a classic shot of the camera panning on her children's blank and shocked faces when seeing her new husband for the first time.
One of her son's gets so angry at the news he kicks the TV screen in and her children start to leave. One of her sons even says, "you shouldn't have done that mother. You can forget you have children. I want nothing to do with a whore." After her children angrily leave Emmi breaks down and Ali consoles her. There's a touching moment shortly after where Ali goes to take a shower and Emmi observes him and says, "your very beautiful Ali."
During the first few months of marriage the two of them are facing prejudice and hate at every turn. They are treated rudely by a waiter at a restaurant which Emmi earlier states "Was Hitler's favorite restaurant!" Emmi is shunned by her coworkers and they soon want nothing to do with her, calling her husband "disgusting" behind her back. Ali faces discrimination everywhere he goes as well, especially with Emmi's grocer when he tries to ask for a simple product and the grocer pretends he doesn't understand Ali and says, "learn German first, then come back."
Emmi one evening has an idea to have Ali bring his Arabic friends over to their place to drink and play cards, but that night the neighbors purposely call the police complaining that the music is too loud and they can't sleep. One neighbor says to the officer, "She's got four foreigners in her apartment...four of them! You're not safe anymore. They're all Arabs. You know what they're like...bombs and all that." The officer replies by saying, "Your over exaggerating. They're not all like that, ma'am."
Emmi and Ali decide to take a long vacation together to Steinsee to escape the discrimination of the neighbors and townspeople but it seems they cannot escape the hate and prejudice of other's. One of the most emotional scenes of the film is when the two of them are sitting outside at a fancy restaurant holding hands and all the restaurant co-workers are coldly staring across at them unwilling to serve them. Emmi starts to cry and Ali asks why. Emmi says, "Because I'm so happy on the one hand, and on the other I can't bear it anymore. All this hatred from everyone. Dirty swine...all of them!! This is my husband!!! MY HUSBAND!!!"
After their return home the strain in the relationship starts to take hold and the both of them slowly drift away physically and emotionally. Out of longing for her old friends respect and social acceptance, Emmi starts to neglect Ali and even get's involved with her friends mindless gossip on a new cleaner; a woman from Yugoslavia. Emmi than invites the ladies to come up to her apartment where Emmi shows Ali off as if he were an object; as one of her friends comments on how "clean he is" and how "she always thought people like him didn't wash."
Ali starts to distance himself from Emmi and spend more time with his Arab friends at the bar. One evening the blond barmaid invites Ali over to her place and reluctant at first eventually agrees not just for sex, but because she knows how to make couscous.
When Ali doesn't come home for days there's a heartbreaking scene where Emmi visits him at his work in front of his co-workers to ask why he hasn't been coming home. One of Ali's co-workers shouts, "Who's this Ali? Your Grandma from Morocco? What does she want?" They all start laughing including Ali and you can see the hurt in Emmi's eyes and see the shame in Ali's eyes because he was laughing along with them.
Near the end of the film just when it seems as if the relationship is beyond repair, Emmi goes back to the bar to meet with Ali. She sits down at the same table like she did in the beginning of the film and again orders a coke. When she asks the barmaid to play her and Ali's favorite song Ali eventually decides to walk over to her and asks her to dance again. While dancing Ali admits to his adultery saying, "Me sleep with other women." Emmi tells him, "I know how old I am. I see it in the mirror everyday. But when were together we must be nice to each other otherwise life's not worth living." Ali then tells her, "I don't want other women. I love only you." While Emmi and Ali reconcile their love for one another with Emmi saying, "I love you too...Together were strong," Ali suddenly collapses in Emmi's arms from a burst stomach ulcer and is rushed to the hospital. While in the hospital the doctor informs Emmi the illness is common among foreign workers because of the stress they face.
NEW GERMAN CINEMA
The legendary director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was one of the major director's who contributed in the New German Cinema movement which lasted throughout the late 1960's to the 1980's. This movement was a sudden emergence of new generation German director's who produced a number of small low budget avantgarde films that caught the attention of art house audiences and enabled these directors into better financed productions which were even backed by the US studios. Such directors involved in the New German Cinema movement besides Rainer Werner Fassbinder were Werner Herzog, Alexander Kluge, Volker Schlondorff, and Wim Wenders; as these young set of filmmakers sparked a renaissance in German cinema and their success encouraged other German filmmakers to make such quality stories. The New German Cinema was influenced by other earlier film movements like the French New Wave, British Kitchen Sink realism, and Italian Neorealism with references to the well-established genres of The Hollywood cinema. These films mostly contained low budget stories that represented contemporary German life as several of these filmmakers were specifically concerned with asking questions about national identity, German history, and the gritty and bleak experiences of modern struggles.
As a reaction to the artistic and economic stagnation of German cinema, these group of young German film-makers issued the Oberhausen Manifesto on 28 February 1962, which was a group that provocatively and confidently declared that "The old cinema is dead. We believe in the new cinema". The Oberhausen Manifesto was a rejection of the existing German film industry and their determination to build a new industry founded on artistic excellence rather than commercial dictates; most famously with Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Fear Eats the Soul and Wim Wender's Wings of Desire.
The origin of Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974), a breakthrough in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s career and one of the great films of the New German Cinema, can be traced to two earlier films. In Fassbinder’s The American Soldier (1970), a hotel chambermaid (played by Margarethe von Trotta) recounts the story of Emmi, a Hamburg cleaning woman who met Ali, a Turkish immigrant worker, in a bar, married him, and was later found strangled, the imprint of the letter A from a signet ring on her throat. Shortly after making The American Soldier, Fassbinder encountered the Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk—a German-born director who’d emigrated to the United States—and found proof that it was possible to make beautiful, personal films that registered with the public. One film that had a particular impact on Fassbinder was All That Heaven Allows (1956), in which the romance between a well-to-do widow and a younger tree surgeon is opposed by her mortified children and snobbish, envious neighbors.
From the story told by von Trotta in The American Soldier, Fassbinder takes the names and social situations of the two main characters of Fear Eats the Soul, along with the interracial aspect of their relationship (although Ali is now Moroccan, not Turkish). But he replaces the tragic ending with a hopeful one. He also shifts the story from Hamburg to Munich. From All That Heaven Allows, Fassbinder takes the age gap between the lovers (and significantly widens it) and the theme of the hostility of outsiders, which lets him use the film to criticize society.
It’s inaccurate, however, to call Fear Eats the Soul a “remake” of All That Heaven Allows, as has sometimes been done. There are a few precise echoes of the earlier film the later one. Emmi’s tearful confession that, despite her pretended indifference, the hatred of the Germans does matter to her, recalls lines spoken by Jane Wyman in the Sirk film; and Fassbinder borrows from Sirk the symbol of a TV set as the sterile link between the heroine and her son (without recreating Sirk’s devastating camera movement toward Wyman’s reflection in the TV screen). But in adapting the story of All That Heaven Allows (which more recently also inspired Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven), Fassbinder simplifies it, makes its contrasts more extreme, turns it away from melodrama and toward fable, and intensifies its motive forces: the love of the couple and the oppression acting on them.
In the first part of Fear Eats the Soul, the oppression comes from Emmi’s children, neighbors, and coworkers. The turning point is the couple’s vacation in Steinsee. After they come home, they found, as Emmi had hoped, that everything is different around them. But now the oppression comes from within, from the power imbalance between the two of them. She has power over him because she is a German in Germany, but he has power over her because he is younger and sexually attractive.
To show the couple’s predicament, Fassbinder uses a complementary pair of expressive figures, the first based on the restriction of the film frame. The doorway to Emmi’s kitchen becomes a variable frame that traps characters in their unhappiness (as when she’s left alone after Ali goes out for couscous) or that encloses a moment of intimacy stolen from loneliness (the couple’s first private time, when Emmi gives Ali brandy). In the several scenes set on the staircases of Emmi’s apartment building and of the building she cleans, intrusive vertical forms (columns, pipes, window and door frames) divide the characters and make their power relations instantly readable.
The second expressive figure—a wide shot revealing the emptiness around the couple—appears at moments when Emmi and Ali are most together. As they emerge from the registry office in the rain, the solitude and indifference they’re up against seem to take on visible form: piles of rubble in the middle-ground, the lone car that passes in the background. Visiting an outdoor café, the couple find themselves marooned in a sea of yellow tables—across which the camera tracks toward them in an instinctive gesture of sympathy. The scene in the fancy restaurant where they celebrate their wedding unites both expressive figures: an interior doorway ceremoniously frames the couple, while on the camera’s side of the doorway, empty tables testify to the absence of any social context for their happiness and any support for it.
There’s a sense throughout the film that the world has become still—a feeling of timelessness, conveyed not just through the long, strange moments of silence and immobility, but also through the way the characters of Fear Eats the Soul constantly generalize about life. “Fear eat soul” (a closer translation of the ?lm’s ungrammatical German title, Angst essen Seele auf). “Time heals all wounds.” “Money spoils a friendship.” “In business you have to hide your aversions.” “Half of life consists of work.” “Germans with Arabs not good.” “Think much, cry much.” “Dark clothes look so sad, don’t they?” “It’s no fun drinking alone.” The sententiousness of these lines adds to the ?lm’s impression of stillness. In them, a way of looking at life has solidi?ed and become accepted as natural and permanent.
The stillness of the film is deeply sad. But in the middle of all this sadness lies the possibility Emmi and Ali create when they find each other. The film draws its immense force from its concentration on two simple facts: the world’s indifference and the couple’s love.
Much of the beauty of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul comes from the performances of Brigitte Mira and El Hedi ben Salem. All the details of Mira’s Emmi are vivid and affecting: her resignation, her intelligence, the mixture of stubbornness and hesitancy with which she faces her life, the fundamental optimism implied in her graciousness with people (as when she chooses to ignore the malice of the neighbor who seizes an inopportune moment to repay a trivial loan) or in the pleasant way she serves Ali brandy. Mira shows us the social role that has been imposed on Emmi, while at the same time showing us her need to give and receive tenderness—a need that the role fails to satisfy.
Ben Salem’s freshness and candor make him an ideal partner for Mira. As Mira does with Emmi, ben Salem makes the social attitudes that Ali has adopted instantly clear: his ready impassivity before German racism, his retreat into the haven of the bar.
As we enter more deeply into the film, we may be surprised to find that we feel for the other characters, too, with all their limitations: they, too, are trapped, vulnerable. It’s crucial for Fassbinder’s portrayal of German society in Fear Eats the Soul that in the first part of the film, when Emmi and Ali are victimized at every turn, we see three people who don’t condemn the couple, who regard their union, if not positively, at least with a certain equivocal indulgence, and who, in Emmi and Ali’s absence, defend them: the shopkeeper’s wife, the landlord’s son, and the bar owner. These three characters make a transition, or sliding-off, in our sympathies, from the couple toward the outsiders, preparing us to see the film’s racists as redeemable. (Characteristically, Fassbinder gives himself the role of the most swinish racist, Emmi’s son-in-law.) And even while showing that the turnabouts in the attitudes of Emmi’s neighbors, children, and coworkers are motivated by self-interest, Fassbinder makes us ask: isn't that the case with all progress? And if it’s too much to hope that people’s natures change, isn't it enough, for a start, that their actions change?
Fassbinder praised Sirk as “a man who loves human beings and doesn't despise them as we do.” As Ali: Fear Eats the Soul shows, he gave himself too little credit.
At the beginning of his career, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, working simultaneously in the media of theater and film, created his own style out of a fusion of the two forms. One critic described the results as “bastards of form,” a mixture of Godard and Living Theatre, realistic folk play and Antonin Artaud. After spinning out ten films within two years (1969 and 1970) in a frenzied burst of creativity, his “anti-theater” concept, which included “anti-film,” had pretty much exhausted itself.
The Merchant of Four Seasons (Der Händler der vier Jahreszeiten) introduced, in 1971, a new phase of Fassbinder’s filmmaking. If he had been seen up until then as an elitist young filmmaker whose static and stylized productions reached only intellectual audiences, he now found the courage to tell stories in a simple way that appealed to a broader audience. In an interview, he described the new movie as “a very straightforward film, not one it would occur to anybody to call art,” and added that it was “a simple melodrama without any shenanigans.” That was a provocative statement, because for German critics, the melodrama was identical with the sentimental tearjerker, a trivial genre that met with contempt at the time. However, there was one man—alongside other Hollywood directors—whose works and person stood for the possibility of making popular movies filled with big emotions without stooping to phony kitsch and reactionary ideologies, and that was Douglas Sirk.
At the end of 1970, the Filmmuseum in the City Museum of Munich showed a small Sirk retrospective (six productions from All That Heaven Allows to Imitation of Life). Fassbinder watched all of the films in this showcase and was deeply moved: “That really breaks you up in the movie theater. You understand something about the world and what it is doing to you.” This cinematic experience must have been a revelation for him. He described his impressions vividly in an extensive essay, and came to the conclusion: “I have seen six films by Douglas Sirk. Among them are the ?nest films in the world.” The young filmmaker went to visit the Hollywood veteran, who was now living in the Swiss canton of Ticino. And when the almost eighty-year-old director was teaching at the Munich Academy of Television and Film (HFF/M), Fassbinder took on one of the parts in an academic production that Sirk was supervising. (He played in Bourbon Street Blues, the film adaptation of a one-act play by the well-known writer Tennessee Williams). Sirk’s work experienced a renaissance, not least of all thanks to Fassbinder’s essay, but the influence Sirk exerted on him has nevertheless been somewhat exaggerated.
Fassbinder spoke with great admiration about Sirk, but he did not copy him. He was especially impressed with Sirk’s professionalism and his attitude, by which Fassbinder meant the attitude both toward his work and toward the characters. In the films of Sirk it should be noted, according to Fassbinder, that the director “loves human beings and doesn’t despise them as we do.” He now began to have a highly self-critical opinion of his previous anti-theater film work; its attitude, he believed, was cold and arrogant. In this phase of his transformation and reorientation, he was encouraged in his considerations by the example he found in Sirk. This explains why the encounter was of such decisive importance for him: “I have found someone,” said Fassbinder, “who makes art in a way that has made me see what I have to change in my own work.” So the Sirk essay was not merely a tribute to a role model, but a piece of radical self-re?ection, a revealing confession which sheds light on Fassbinder’s understanding of film and life.
The direct contact with Douglas Sirk—Fassbinder gave him the screenplay of The Merchant of Four Seasons to read and requested his opinion—turned out to be productive. The melodrama pays no heed to logic or credibility; Sirk relieved him of the fear, Fassbinder once said, of being profane. For a long time he thought about doing a remake of All That Heaven Allows. Fassbinder made a one-page sketch of the project, which he called Des Menschen Himmelreich (roughly, Man’s Heaven). The plot: Congressman Curt Werner dies during a centennial celebration; his widow, Carola, doesn’t know how her life should go on without him. “In her grief she loses all connection to everyday reality and has to hire a chauffeur. Ron Jackson drives her safely through the city and gently leads her back to life. Although he is considerably younger than Carola, she decides to affirm her reawakening love by marrying him. This news causes a scandal. Her two children, Anna and Alfred, leave their mother because they cannot bear the disgrace. In her inner struggle, reason prevails over love and Carola breaks up with the chauffeur.” But her fate is reversed once again: the two children move out of her house; Carola is alone again, and she realizes the futility of her sacrifice. She returns to Ron Jackson, but it is too late. He has taken up with someone else….
A scene in Fear Eats the Soul refers directly to All That Heaven Allows. In the Sirk movie, the wealthy widow Cary Scott calls her children together to introduce them to her fiancé, the gardener Ron Kirby. The children are shocked—for them it is a completely impossible relationship because of the difference in age, but also in social standing. They put so much pressure on their mother that she cancels the wedding plans. Then it is Christmastime. The daughter tells her that she is getting married, the son that he is going abroad. The doorbell rings. A salesman brings the children’s present: a television set. In Fassbinder’s film the children are also appalled when Emmi introduces her ben Salem to them: Bruno, in a rage, kicks in the television. This scene, meant as an homage, shows the difference. Such acts of violence would be unthinkable in Sirk’s movie; it is set in an upper-middle class society. By contrast, Fassbinder depicts people from the lower classes: “In my case it takes place in a raw, brutal world; the same story in Sirk’s films set in small-town America, where it functions better.” Taking this scene as an example, Fassbinder explains that “you can’t simply imitate; you have to transcribe,” which means to tell your own story on the basis of the film experience.
Fassbinder goes beyond Sirk in that he exposes a social mechanism. As long as Emmi and ben Salem are faced with direct animosity, they assure themselves of their mutual solidarity and stick together. But when their people try to come to terms with the situation and they are both taken back into their respective circles (and then always betray each other), the real, previously hidden con?icts come to the surface. The final scene brings only an outward concurrence between All That Heaven Allows and Fear Eats the Soul. Cary Scott is sitting at the hospital bedside when Ron opens his eyes. In the background beyond the big window we see idyllic flurries of snow and a little fawn—the happy ending dictated by Hollywood conventions is laid on so thick that it lacks all credibility. Fassbinder’s commentary: “Anyone who makes such difficulties with love is not going to be happy later.” In Fear Eats the Soul the private story is carried over into a more general dimension. In Ron’s case, he has a simple accident, but ben Salem’s ulcer, as the doctor explains, is a typical ailment for immigrant workers and can be traced back to economic stress and social pressure. Fassbinder understands “the human body as the scene of social con?icts (Wilfried Wiegand).”
Fassbinder’s addressing himself to the audience led him to adopt new strategies of action in his dramaturgical considerations. For Fear Eats the Soul he chose a deliberately simple, linear narrative structure. This was new and unusual for the German cinema of the time. In answer to the charge that the film was a naïve social drama with the look of a fairy tale, Fassbinder answered that of course he knew that relationships are much more complex than that. “But I believe that every spectator should fill them up with their own reality. And they have this possibility when a story is that simple. A concrete utopia should inspire them to think about changing their everyday life.”
In his essay Fassbinder noted: “After Douglas Sirk's film, love seems to me even more to be the best, most sneaky and effective instrument of social oppression.” How a person with his needs and longings is conditioned to be a useful member of society is the subject of his films time and again.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder started out with The Merchant of Four Seasons which introduced a phase of Fassbinder’s film-making, using melodrama as a style to create critical studies of contemporary German life for a general audience. It was Fassbinder's first effort to create what he declared he aspired to which was a cinematic statement of the human condition as the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini had done before him. Then he made The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant which was adapted from one of Fassbinder's plays. It tells a story about a successful fashion designer who is arrogant and who mistreats her lesbian lover. Many of Fassbinder’s films deal with homosexuality, in keeping with his interest in characters who are outsiders to society, but especially in the film The Fox and his Friends where Fassbinder plays the main character he drew away from most representations of homosexuals in films. In an interview at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, Fassbinder said about Fox and His Friends, “It is certainly the first film in which the characters are homosexuals, without homosexuality being made into a problem."
In a Year of Thirteen Moons is Fassbinder's most personal and bleakest work and a personal favorite of mine. It follows the tragic life of Elvira, a transsexual formerly known as Erwin within the last few days before her suicide in where she decides to visit some of the important people and places in her life. Along with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and In a Year of Thirteen Moons comes one of my favorite films of all time in which I believe to be a masterpiece which is The Marriage of Maria Braun. It tells the story of an ambitious and strong-willed woman separated from her husband towards the end of World War II. It follows Maria Braun's steady rise as a successful business woman during the Adenauer era, but her professional achievements are not accompanied by personal happiness. Finally Fassbinder directed a 15 hour German TV series titled Berlin Alexanderplatz and it became his crowning achievement. It was the culmination of all the director's themes of love, life, hate, and power, about a former convict and minor pimp, who was just released from prison after the murder of his wife. Berlin Alexanderplatz is considered by many to be Fassbinder's magnum opus.
To express the couple’s highly stressful predicament throughout the film, Fassbinder brilliantly uses several geometric figures, including the tight restriction of the camera frame. The cramped entrance way which leads into Emmi’s kitchen, including its tight hallways and sharp corners, feel claustrophobically enclosed and condensed, giving the feeling as if its trapping its characters in their unhappiness and shame, also emphasizing their lack of privacy, intimacy and comfortability. In the sequences shot on the staircase of Emmi’s apartment building and of the building she cleans, the columns, windows, door frames, and the twisted staircase purposely divides the characters creating their own power relations instantly recognizable.
The themes of racism has portrayed in the cinema starting with D.W. Griffith's silent controversial epic The Birth of a Nation in 1915. Over the decades several films on race have been made including Imitation of Life, In the Heat of the Night, Gentlemen's Agreement, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Raisin in the Sun, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; and more recent films like Do the Right Thing, Schindler's List and American History X. And yet no other movie has been more gentle, honest and poignant on the issue of race then Fassbinder's masterpiece Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. You care for these two lonely souls who need one another and they would be happy if they didn't live in such a toxic environment full of judgemental gossipy people who clearly don't have anything better to do then worry about others. The most iconic scene in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is when Emmi informs her children that she has gotten married. Fassbinder uses the camera to zoom and pan across the silent faces of her children as the son-in-law as Bruno whirls around in his chair, stands up and then kicks in the screen of her television set. And yet some of the best scenes are the more subtle sequences in the film, like Emmi ganging up with her fellow co-workers to exclude the new cleaner from Yugoslavia, only because her so-called friends have finally decided to become friendly with Emmi once again, after a long period of insults and gossip. Emmi delighted that were friends are again speaking with her she invites them up to her apartment and when introducing Ali to them, she shows him off as more of a sexual physical object by allowing her friends to feel his muscles. Soon enough her judgemental neighbors are happy to have Emmi's strong new husband help them move furniture and Ali unhappy with the way he's being treated decides to leave and to a environment that he feels respected and comfortable. He heads to the blond bartenders apartment, not necessarily for sex but because she knows how to make couscous. Bigotry and passing judgement on another is a common theme in Fassbinder's film, as most of the time people seem to be staring across rooms passing judgments on one another, then actually taking the time to approach the person to get the know them first. Film critic Roger Ebert added Ali: Fear Eats the Soul to his 'Great Movies' list stating: "The film is powerful but very simple. It is based on a melodrama, but Fassbinder leaves out all of the highs and lows, and keeps only the quiet desperation in the middle." Fassbinder filmed Ali: Fear Eats the Soul in just under two weeks, and it was actually planned as a simple exercise in film-making for Fassbinder, to fill in the time in his schedule between the work on two other big budget productions, and shot it on a shoestring budget with unknown actors and actresses. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul which he probably didn't think much of while filming at the time is now considered one of his greatest achievements. I believe the story is so raw and powerful because Fassbinder shot the film so quickly that he didn't have time to express anything else except honesty and the truth.