Ali: Fear Eats the Soul – The Criterion Collection #198 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 28, 2014 by  


The portrayal of racism feels real and is absolutely heartbreaking and Rainer Werner Fassbinder was able to create a melodrama with tones of an interracial marriage under society’s scrutiny, but also the unhidden problems that can affect both in the marriage if there is no meeting in the middle and accepting each other’s differences and culture. An important film and a Rainer Werner Fassbinder masterpiece, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2014 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul – The Criterion Collection #198


DURATION: 93 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Monoraul


RELEASE DATE: September 30, 2014

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Written by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Cinematography by Jurgen Jurges

Edited by Thea Eymesz


Brigitte Mira as Emmi

El Hedi ben Salem as Ali

Irm Hermann as Krista

Elma Karlowa as Mrs. Kargus

Anita Bucher as Mrs. Ellis

Gusti Kreissl as Paula

Doris Mattes as Mrs. Angermeyer

Margit Symo as Hedwig

Katharina Herberg as a Girl in Bar

Lilo Pempeit as Mrs. Munchmeyer

Peter Gauhe as Bruno Kurowski

Marquard Bohm as Grober

The wildly prolific German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder paid homage to his cinematic hero Douglas Sirk with this update of that filmmaker’s 1955 All That Heaven Allows. A lonely widow (Brigitte Mira) meets a much younger Arab worker (El Hedi ben Salem) in a bar during a rainstorm. They fall in love, to their own surprise—and to the outright shock of their families, colleagues, and drinking buddies. In Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Fassbinder expertly wields the emotional power of classic Hollywood melodrama to expose the racial tensions underlying contemporary German culture.

In 1974, filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder would create his first major masterpiece titled “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”.

“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” was nominated for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and would go on to win the FIPRESCI Prize, Silver Hugo and would earn actress Brigitte Mira a German Film Award for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role”.

Created as a homage to Douglas Sirk films such as “Imitation of Life” and “All That Heaven Allows”, the film was created in two weeks and was inspired by immigrant prejudice that he and his mother had experience as his mother immigrated back to Germany form Poland after the Soviet Occupation.

The film was released by The Criterion Collection on DVD back in 2003 and over a decade later, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” will now be released on Blu-ray.

“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” begins with a 60-year-old widow named Emmi Kurowski (portrayed by Brigitte Mira) visiting a bar and being drawn by the Arabic music playing during her walk home from work.

When she comes to visit the bar, she is stared on by the owner/bartender Barbara (portrayed by Barbara Valentin) and a group of Arabs.  Seeing that she doesn’t belong at her bar, Barbara tries to taunt Emmi to dance with a Moroccan Gastarbeiter (guest worker) named Ali (portrayed by El Hedi ben Salem)

The two dance and immediately a friendship between both Emmi and Ali begins and we start to learn about how Ali feels that Germans look down on Arabs and wonders if she minds being around him.

And Emmi opens Ali to her life and invites him to her apartment for a drink, because it’s late, she lets Ali sleep over.  And immediately, it would lead to both people having sex with each other and eventually, the two begin having more interaction with each other.

But it begins to alarm those who live in her apartment building as they see Arabs as unclean pigs and are more concerned of having sex with women.

Emmi starts to realize that she has fallen for Ali and tries to tell her daughter  Krista (portrayed by Irm Hermann) and her prejudiced husband, her son-in-law Eugen (portrayed by Fassbinder) that she has fallen for an Arab but thinking that it’s a joke, they both dismiss her and that she is old and having fantasies.

As she allows Ali to stay with her at times, this leads to a threat by the landlord’s son that he is not allowed to have lodger’s stay at her home as it goes against her tenant agreement and that Ali must leave.  Upset of what is happening, Emmi tells him that she and Ali are planning to marry and so, she hasn’t broken any tenant rules.

When Emmi explains to him of what she told him, Ali likes the idea of him being married to Emmi and both decide to get married.

But as the two are intent of having a happy marriage, Emmi starts to learn quickly that society does not acknowledge their marriage and see her as a whore for marrying an Arab.  She is shunned by her co-workers who make her clean more because she brought a dirty foreigner into their building, whenever they eat at a restaurant, everyone stares at them with disgust.

When she goes to tell her children the good news of the man she married, they also react with disgust and want to cut any relationship that she has with them.

As any form of optimism of their marriage going downhill, Emmi wonders if she and Ali can be happily married and people accept their relationship without prejudice.


“All That Jazz – The Criterion Collection #724” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality for the film is fantastic compared to its previous DVD incarnations. Grain is visible throughout the film, the film has no blemishes and aside from the clothing of its era, there are no problems with the film’s colors.

The 4K digital restoration of the film shows, as the film features wonderful clarity. There are no blemishes, nor are there any problems with aging, this film looks magnificent.

According to the Criterion Collection, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” was supervised by director of photography Jurgen Jurges.  This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original camera negative at ARRI Film & TV in Munich, where the film was also restored.


As for audio, “All That Jazz – The Criterion Collection #724” is presented in German LPCM 1.0 monaural with English subtitles.  Audio was clear and detected no significant hiss, crackle or pops during my viewing of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from teh 17.5 mm magnetic track.  Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD,  Audio Cube’s integrated workstation and iZotope RX 3.


“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul – The Criterion Collection #198” comes with the following special features:

  • Angst Isst Seele Auf – (12:33) Director Shabaz Noshir’s 2002 short about a Muslim actor’s encounter with prejudice.
  • Todd Haynes – (22:45) Recorded in 2003, filmmaker Todd Haynes discusses the influence of filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder on his work and the influence of director Douglas Sirk.
  • Brigitte Mira – (25:00) A 2003 interview with actress Brigitte Mira in Berlin.
  • Thea Eymesz – (22:36) A 2003 interview with editor Thea Eymesz who had worked with Rainer Werner Fassbinder on 16 of his films.
  • Signs of Vigorous Life: New German Cinema – (32:21) An episode from the British TV program “Omnibus” about the New German Cinema Movement.  The episode aired on Feb. 12, 1976.
  • From the American Soldier – (2:45) The story of “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” was used before the film was made and was seen in his short “The American Soldier” but a story told by a chambermaid (portrayed by Margarethe von Trotta).
  • Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”.


“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul – The Criterion Collection #198″comes with a quad fold out with the essay “One Love Two Oppressions” by Chris Fujiwara.


When it comes to films about racism, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” is one of the most polarizing films to have ever been created.

As Stanley Kramer’s 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” explored interracial marriage in with a successful Black man marrying a Caucasian woman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” tries to encompass the racism in German society (or around the world) towards foreigners but also how the marriage between Emmi and Ali slowly disintegrates due to the mentality that a foreigner must accept the cultural personification of the country they live in.

As an Asian American man who is married to a woman who is German/Dutch American, there is no doubt that there is a cultural divide that rears its ugly head once the cultural sensitivity has ended.  I have seen it on both sides and truthfully, there has to be some sort of assimilation with a culture of the country you live in.

There is no doubt things are much easier now than they were decades ago but you can’t help but feel that the relationship between Ali and Emmi was doomed.  While the words of “love conquers all” is often true to a point, in there case, their love is what led them to be a strong couple and not care of what people around them are saying or are feeling.

It’s what happens afterward as Emmi tries to get Ali to become more “German” and Ali feeling that he can never assimilate with the German culture that shuns him.

In one scene, Ali is desperately craving couscous and Emmi tells him that she doesn’t make couscous and how she should grow accustomed to eating German food.  And right off the bat, you can feel that this is a signal of doom when people of both cultures do not meet in the middle and take part in each other’s own culture.

Both actress Brigitte Mira and El Hedi ben Salem do a magnificent job portraying their characters.  Emmi who is a much older and naive woman who has managed to fall for a Moroccan named Ali.  Both are able to capture their characters emotions and their ups and downs of their marriage and dealing with a disapproving society.

“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” looks much better than its 2003 DVD counterpart with much better colors, better detail and sharpness and the lossless soundtrack is appropriate.  All special features from the original Criterion Collection DVD are included on this Blu-ray release.

Overall, the portrayal of racism feels real and is absolutely heartbreaking and Rainer Werner Fassbinder was able to create a melodrama with tones of an interracial marriage under society’s scrutiny, but also the unhidden problems that can affect both in the marriage if there is no meeting in the middle and accepting each other’s differences and culture.

An important film and a Rainer Werner Fassbinder masterpiece, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” is highly recommended!

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