13 August 2003 | RWiggum
Sad. True. Beautiful.
Munich, in the mid-70s: She enters the exotic bar because it's raining and maybe because she's a little curious what this place with that strange music is like. He asks her for a dance because his friends tell him to do so. He accompanies her home. He stays for the night. The fall in love. They marry.
All that sounds like your average Hollywood romance. But that's only half the story of 'Fear Eats the Soul'. Here's the other half: She, Emmi Kurowski, is a 60 year old, widowed cleaner, mother of three married children. He, Ali, is a black foreign worker from Morocco, 20 years younger than her, speaking a rather bad German (a more faithful translation of the German original title 'Angst essen Seele auf', a quote from Ali, would be 'Fear Eat Soul'). This film is not a cheesy romance, it is the story of two people who love each other and struggle with the rest of the world to be accepted.
But the people around them have problems. The neighbors are talking about them, Emmi's colleagues ignore her, the merchant refuses to serve them, and Emmi's children don't want to understand it - her son Bruno even destroys the TV set in his anger.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder is arguably the greatest German director ever, and with more than 40 films, TV series, TV films plus 16 theater plays he wrote, directed and often also (co-)starred in in a career that lasted only a mere 15 years, he is certainly one of the most efficient directors in film history. His best films are a criticism of German society after World War II by simple, but memorable stories with very well observed characters. And 'Fear Eats the Soul' displays Fassbinder's qualities best. In very simple shots (facial expressions, the use doors to stress the loneliness of his characters), he makes this films very emotional.
The film is sometimes described as naive. That's wrong. Maybe it is naive to believe that a 60 year old widow and a black 40 year old worker will fall in love. But the rest is as well-observed as a film can be: The fact that people's reactions change when they realize that it's easier to accept them and take advantage of them. That Emmi eagerly joins her colleagues as soon as they have found a new victim. That Ali goes to the waitress of his bar to get the two things Emmi can't give him - sex and his favorite dish.
And then the film has some amazing acting. But from the entire cast, Brigitte Mira as Emmi Kurowski stands out. Actually a comedic actress, she shines in this drama as a woman who struggles for acceptance. Her speech outside a restaurant, when all the waiters stare at them but don't serve them, is heartbreaking, her entire performance is unforgettable.
At first sight, 'Fear Eats the Soul' is a small, simple romantic film. But look closer and you'll see it is so much more, it is a comment on subliminal prejudices and selfishness. It shows what a film can do, even if its budget is tiny, if it only believes in the power of its story.