Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

In the movie Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Emmi, a German woman who appears to be in her sixties, stops in an Arab bar to get out of the rain. She meets Ali, who is from Morocco, and who is at least twenty years younger than she is. One thing leads to another, and he ends up spending the night with her, and they become lovers.

There have been a lot of movies about couples that have to deal with prejudice and disapproval, but this one seems to be going for the gold. First, Emmi and Ali are a mixed-race couple in which the woman is the one who is white.  Moreover, he is also foreign. And though religion never comes up, we suspect that she is Christian and he is Muslim. And then they are different in age by a generation. Just as society accepts a mixed-race couple better when the man is white, so too does society accept an age difference better when the older one is the man. But just as in this case the woman white, so too is she the one who is older.

Mixed-race couples of the same age can make a go of it, getting married and having children, if that is what they want. But when the woman is much older than the man, even of the same race, it is better for them to treat the relationship as a fling, and that means they should not live together, and they should definitely not get married. As the bartender says of their relationship, “Of course it won’t last. So What?” But this movie manages to get them married anyway.

First, we find out that Ali shares a room with five other men. Since she lives alone, it seems to make perfectly good sense for him to move in with her. But later we find out that as a mechanic, he makes more money than she does as a cleaning lady. So, if she can afford an apartment all to herself, why can’t he? Then the landlord objects to her subletting her apartment. In America, a woman could simply say he was her roommate, but I guess things are weird in Germany. So, she says that she and Ali are going to get married. She is not serious, saying this only to satisfy the landlord about his subletting objection, but Ali thinks it is a good idea. And so, against all reason, the movie contrives to get them married.

The rudeness and bigotry they experience from almost everyone is over the top, with people calling her a whore, ostracizing her, and even kicking in her television set. But let us assume that these vicious extremes of prejudice are the way things would have been in Germany in the 1970s. If so, then the total capitulation that follows is unbelievable. Emmi suggests that she and Ali should go somewhere on vacation, and that things will be different when they get back. It is an absurd prediction, but it comes to pass nevertheless. When they come back from vacation, everyone is nice to them. Granted, they all seem to want something from Emmi. But what a coincidence it is that so many people would want something from her all at the same time, and enough so for them to overcome the vehement prejudice we know them to harbor. But that is not the only change that happened while they were on vacation. Emmi and Ali have changed as well. Ali becomes sullen, cheats on her, and seems to be ashamed of his relationship with her. And Emmi begins to exhibit prejudice against foreigners. She tells him to help carry stuff down to the cellar, as if he were the hired help; she refuses to cook him couscous, saying he should get used to eating German food; and she and her friends talk about him while he is standing in the same room, discussing how clean he is, after which they examine him like some prize bull.

Actually, those who made the movie seem to be as obsessed with the question of Arab cleanliness as the characters in the movie. We have a scene in which Emmi gives Ali a toothbrush, a scene in which we see him taking a shower, a reference to his taking a shower, and a scene in which the female Arab bartender says she is going to get cleaned up before she and Ali have sex.

We expected there to be disapproval from others, and we expected Emmi and Ali to begin to suffer from their differences once the initial passion wore off. But the sudden shift from one extreme to another, separated only by that incredibly transformative vacation that we never see take place, but only hear about, is jarring.

And then, as we wonder how all this is going to work out between them, Ali collapses on the dance floor from a perforated ulcer. It is almost as if the people making this movie did not know how to end it, and so they just threw in a medical emergency at the last minute, leaving us with a final scene in which Ali is unconscious in a hospital bed.

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