A literal sentiment can be found in the title of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s work here. Fear does eat the soul. Problems or punishments can wriggle inside, a tapeworm of true anxiety and fear. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul represents much of that, through simplicity and effectively quiet tones that are wrapped around a plot of prejudice and perfunctory supporting characters who are acting in the interest of themselves and nobody else. They are angered, fear eats at their soul more than it does the two leading characters, whose surprise relationship with one another is a challenge to the systemic racism found in West Germany, rather than a naturally blossoming romance. These are desperate people who have found one another.
That is more romantic than most films can offer, though. Tragedy brings people together in the most unlikely of ways. Some months after the Munich Massacre, a widowed cleaner and a Moroccan immigrant kindle a friendship. It evolves into love and mutual respect. They are tied at the hip and seemingly innocuous to the racial turmoil and tension surrounding them. Beyond that message of accounting for racism, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, crucially, has strong characters. Their simplicity and desire to live a happy life together overcome by outside influences who believe Emmi Kurowski (Brigitte Mira) to be insane or in a state of imaginative hope. She has, after all, lost her husband, and that is a mental toll that takes a heavy swing at the person confronting it.
Emmi is certainly a solid character. It is easy to say that we should stand against racism, and so we should, but Emmi cannot. She risks losing her friends, business relationships and family. Isolation is not worth it, and eventually, she adopts the same attitudes she was initially opposed to, not out of disrespect, but out of fear. It eats at the soul. Her inability to stand up for her partner is not through a lack of trust or opportunity, but of not knowing what to say or do. She gives way to the pressures and prejudice because she wishes to fit in. It is easier to sympathise with a widow that has shown her true self than it is the four children who despise her for an apparent flaw in the brain.
It all feels very typical and similar to the message we see put through the wringer in Hollywood, but at least Ali: Fear Eats the Soul can justify its aims through simplicity and effective camera work. It does not harp on and on through dialogue about its issue and nothing else but combines the tensions and issues with a clarity of character. A character should not be a mouthpiece for an idea but should serve as a messenger, with their own hopes and dreams. Their ability to spin the narrative and scriptwriting is just as important as what the script is saying or doing. For Fassbinder, he manages the balance right with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, for his characters are troubled and flawed, and so too are their ideologies.