Back to All Events

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (free)

  • Chazen Museum of Art 750 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

A surprisingly beautiful romance underscored by heightened racial tension. Info


Rainer Werner Fassbinder directs a 1973 rumination on post-WWII West German racism that’s also a melodramatic age-gap love story. Ali: Fear Eats The Soul takes place some time after the Munich massacre, when Palestinian terrorists attacked Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 games. In a Munich bar where Arab immigrant Ali (El Hedi Ben Salem) spends his time drinking after work, he meets Emmi, a elderly cleaning cleaning lady (Brigitte Mira), and dances with her at the bartender’s urging. When Ali goes home with her, Emmi admits to having been in the Nazi party. She casts shame away from herself, wanting to believe that her life has been buffeted by forces outside her control. Then, very subtly, a beautiful love story begins to unravel. Immediately, though, after their first tryst occurs, tenants in Emmi’s apartment gossip and her co-workers say horrible things you still hear today from Germany's version of the far right.

When the couple marries, Emmi's children and son-in-law (played by Fassbinder) abandon her. As she becomes increasingly associated with German society’s outsiders, people begin to refuse service and outright ignore her. When these same people acclimate and begin to be nice to her again, realizing that Emmi is of value for her meager wealth and whiteness, in a sickening turn, she herself starts to re-enact oppression against Ali.

Like many Fassbinder films, the ending is a heart-wrenching bummer that leaves you wondering why we can't just be good to each other. Despite the uncomfortable spotlight on insidious racism, the drama is tempered by Emmi and Ali’s tenderness as they expressed a flawed yet wonderful love for each other with quiet, sweet attention. —Reid Kurkerewicz

Earlier Event: September 16
Tone Madison Willy Street Fair Stage
Later Event: September 16
Subtle Degrees