Having a look at Fear Eats the Soul

Emmi und Ali

One of my birthday presents from Paul this year was a DVD of Fear Eats the Soul (1974). Made during the hey day of New German Cinema, it was a film that tackled a lot of difficult issues that Germany faced at the time of its production (and still faces even to this day) along with the problems faced by individuals as they grow old and the expectations society places on them.

Set in West Germany during the ’70s, the film follows the blossoming relationship between Emmi (a widowed cleaner) and Ali (a migrant worker from Morocco who works as a mechanic). The racist attitudes that the couple must shoulder due to their seemingly unconventional relationship form a large part of the film’s dialogue with its audience. It is essentially driven by a social commentary on a post-Nazi party, post-war, German society.

Normally when a film tries to get across some ideological stance, it will fail, because audiences tend not to enjoy being preached at by filmmakers. However, Fear Eats the Soul succeeds in not preaching to the viewer. Mainly this is due to the film showing rather than telling: there are no long speeches, no existential moments of crisis: the film just shows the obstacles that Emmi and Ali face at the hands of others and also bring upon themselves.

I haven’t watched a film with such little dialogue in a while and at first it was a little weird, but the way that Rainer Werner Fassbinder wrote the film and directed it meant that in the end it seemed natural. Mostly this was down to how each individual scene was composed visually and audibly, there were always cues that you could infer more meaning from.

The kinds of cues ranged from the grouping of Emmi and her co-workers on the stairs in their main place of employment when on their lunch break, to the second to last scene where Emmi and Ali danced to the same music they originally danced to on their first meeting. And in that penultimate scene they also wore the same outfits they had been married to each other in several months previously.

On a final note, listening to Ali speak was easier than listening to the German of the German cast members (I’ve studied German previously). This was mainly down to Ali speaking in broken German.


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