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“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” Film Cinematography Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Feb 4th, 2021


Angst Essen Seele Auf is known as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul released in 1974 is a beautiful direction of Rainer Werner Fassbinder who has sketched the entire movie as direct as the scornful glare of a white man to the same gaze of a black man that holds many secrets within (Critic After Dark).

The cinema of Rainer Werner Fassbinder carries the traits of sheer sensitivity and yet, at times, depicts wise nobleness. Thoughtfully organized work is extremely emotional and passionate and highlights those who dare to act outside the norms set by society. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul sketches a Western German society of the 1960s till the early years of the 1980s. Fassbinder often felt that being a bisexual has set him outside the boundaries of his society. His rage towards society is seen quite well in the movie as it develops around a foreign Arab worker Ali played by El Hedi ben Salem and a much older German woman a cleaning lady called Emmi Kurowski played by Brigitte Mira (Coleman).

The cinematography of the movie has been deeply influenced by Douglas Sirk’s famous melodrama All That Heaven Allows. However, when the two movies are compared, no doubt the screening of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul takes the lead. He has used his theatrical skills to portray and reset the definitions of racial intolerance and prejudice, which are way beyond smoother than what Sirk was able to show in his movie (Jake).

Sequence Analysis on the opening scene of Ali–Fear Eats the Soul

The sequence I have chosen to analyze is the opening scene of Angst Essen Seele Auf (Ali–Fear Eats the Soul). The scene lasts for at least 6:30 min. I found the scene highly interesting because it sets the entire theme of the movie in motion.

Fassbinder has very beautifully made the use of both colors and camera movement to display the sheer isolation experienced by both the main characters of the movie, which later on become lovers (Critic After Dark). The scene shows the very first meeting of both the lovers in which Emmy is portrayed as the trout German female protagonist enters the front door of the pub. How the row of small tables all topped with bright red table cloths has been laid in front of her has helped the camera in highlighting her distance As she steps in the bar has appears to be strangely quiet and motionless.

Fassbinder takes a sharp shot to the other end of the bar in the form of a counter shot where Ali, Barbara the bar owner, and other friends gave offensive stares at Emmi, who realizing the wordless assault grabs a chair and sits on it (Critic After Dark). The scene already displays one of the major issues of the movie in which society discriminates against outsiders or non-foreigners act strangely with foreigners. The aspect of cultural differences that can never be bridged is also indirectly pointed (Waltje).

Surprisingly amongst the entire crowd, it is Emmi who is labeled as an outsider, and every action that she performs builds a stronger and stronger wall between her and the other characters prevailing within that particular orbit. When the old lady tells the barmaid that she desires a coke all the customers look at her more strangely. And one of the customer’s forces Ali into dancing with her “Ali dance with the woman?” He being obliged with manners walks up to her table and asks for a dance (Coleman).

This has been presented in a splendid one shot without any cuts with Emmi seated looking to the left side while he is standing behind her bent in the same direction as her which gives their posture almost the same look. He has a perfect pas de deux look as he asks, Emmi almost flusters at his question but then says boldly “why not” (Critic After Dark), then standing up, she takes off her white, yellow, and black printed dress although not entirely spectacular looking but the loud colors make the appearance of the old lady very interesting and also show the untraditional and open nature she possesses that is also very meticulously comes out later in the story (Coleman).

She and Ali walk to the back Fassbinder again make use of a single shot just the way he did when Ali walked to Emmi’s table. The camera follows them, creating a picture in which both the bar ends seem to be joined together. As the couple starts dancing again a red light is showered upon them, giving a heavy glow (Critic After Dark).

The sequence chosen is not divided into many parts because all the actions occur in the pub this is why we only one narrative in the scene. The interesting aberration starts in the second scene when Emmy and Ali indulge themselves in performance by dancing to the song coming out of the jukebox. The best aspect of the dance is that it doesn’t disrupt the storyline it rather helps both the protagonists to create a space of their own and be acquainted with each other (Waltje).

Through certain camera-angles, they are shown dancing in the foreground, and the others filling in as outside spectators are shown in the background who is staring judgingly at the dancing couple (Coleman). The way this is captured gives it a spectacle twist to the scene as the viewer becomes aware that they are listening to a very private conversation with Emmy, asking Ali about his work and origins and him answering to her politely.

Various symbols are used in this scene, which complements well with each other such as the images, speech, and especially the music. All of them balance well none of them dominating one and another. However, the absence of dialogue is very much visible with a jukebox playing Arabic music in the back, which emphasizes the weird situation that has been created in the bar because of Emmi’s absence.

Also, there is no narration present in this sequence; we find no voice-over or off-screen commentary. The story, rather, unfolds as the couple dances and indulges in polite conversation, but this is presented so delicately that the viewer does not notice any selective consciousness. Although the consciousness is present because this is not a live show, rather, it is a fiction story, which is a creation of a screenwriter and put into motion by a director. Maybe this is the reason why many manipulation instances are very cautiously inserted into the diegesis (Waltje).

The location of the entire scene is of a run-down pub, which is very realistically furnished with exotic paintings, tapestries, and brand advertisements hung on the walls giving a very 1970’s look. The bar seems very spacious, which is made purposely to single Emmy out as she sits. It should be noted that the pub has not been designed to look for comfort, rather, it depicts a very cold, and distant look, which has become the symbol depicting the discomfort Emmy is feeling. In the entire scene, the viewers will notice that Emmy is the only person who is wearing a realistic costume and makeup.

Her entire appearance from loud clothes with weird geometric designs and unmade hair show she is from a low class and Ali on the other hand is dark-colored and a bearded man wearing a second-hand suit tells that he is a foreigner however when he dances with Emmy he appears to be very polite and subtle. Once the dance is over, he joins Emmi on the table, which gives the viewers satisfaction that he agrees on the frame as hers (Waltje).

Very standard camera lenses are used in this scene where characters on several occasions are highlighted through close-ups many times their faces are zoomed in. use of very sharp focuses has been made in which shots are taken either from the straight on an angle or from below (Jim). The one-shot is very interesting it is taken sideways from right behind the jukebox, which gives spectators the feeling like they are watching something which they are not supposed to see, and then a shot is taken of the others present in the bar completely emphasizing how separate they are from them.

In the initial scene, Emmy has been portrayed extremely small and tiny, especially when Barbara is standing in a towering position next to Emmy, making her appear smaller and nearly pushing her towards the thin line of the frame. This again has been as a symbol to highlight who in the pub is the center of the attention while who is the outsider. Some long shots depict distance while at times zooming on actors’ faces is done to highlight their features, for instance, Emmy’s age, Barbara’s beauty, and Ali’s foreignness. The only technicality that is visible is in the counter shots where the groups are standing opposite to each other, either staring or checking one and another out (Waltje).

Music is an essential element in the scene in the opening credits an Arab tune is played, which is so far diegetic as it sets well. Initially, Arab music is played, and later on, a German song is played by one of the bar girls who, after getting rejected by Ali, change the song in the jukebox and tries embarrassing both Ali and Emmy by telling him to dance with the old woman. The song is an old German song from the 1920s, which does a great job of portraying the loneliness of both Emmi and Ali (Ebert). As they dance there are no other sound effects except their dialogue.

The spectator is placed more in a voyeuristic position. In the entire scene, the spectator is given a chance to hold his own opinion on the movie’s framework and on the cultural and social norms existing during those times (Waltje). The movie gives out the message that there should be no discrimination based on age, origin, or culture. The movie, although, shows many ups and downs in the relationship, still has a happy ending in which Emmi and Ali reunite after Ali’s ulcer bursts, which according to the doctor happens because of pressure from the society on foreign workers (Jim).

Works Cited

Coleman. . 2009. Web.

Critic After Dark. . 2008. Web.

Ebert, Roger. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974). 1997. Web.

Jake. . 2010. Web.

Jim. The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. 2004. Web.

Waltje, Jörg. “Sequence Analysis.” German Film and Culture (2002): 10.

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IvyPanda. 2021. ""Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" Film Cinematography." February 4, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ali-fear-eats-the-soul-film-cinematography/.


IvyPanda. (2021) '"Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" Film Cinematography'. 4 February.

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