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The film, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, by Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, shows the nature of racial tension and how it affects the division of society. While the audience gets to experience secondhand the outcome of racial tensions from the perspectives of the main characters, the film, as a whole, expresses deeper ideological subplots that subtly cue us into the mindset of society at that time. Although the meaning of this film is told from its narrative experienced by the characters, the way the film is shot portrays a deeper subtext about the themes and meaning of ideology and how the fear of the unknown can cause societal division.
The ideologies of a film not only serve to enhance the emotional struggles that the characters go through but makes the audience question and reflect upon how and why certain characters think and act as they do. The use of certain visual techniques creates metaphors that further the meaning of the greater context felt by the characters in the situations by exploring the background from which they derived.
This film demonstrates that the use of ideological manipulation through mise-en-scene, cinematography, and editing calls attention to the imbalanced supremacy that springs from a dominant cultures hegemonic beliefs.
The film’s story starts on a rainy night in Germany, 30 years after the end of World War II, when an older white woman named Emmi wanders into a foreign bar that she always hears music from when she passes it on the way home from work.
The bartender tells one of their usual patrons, Ali, a large Moroccan man, to go and dance with her; Ali obliges and they dance and talk about their background. Emmi then invites Ali up to her place to have some coffee and talk to pass the time and wait out the rain. Ali ends up sleeping over at Emmi’s house and realizes that they are both very similar and wind up talking some and eventually end up having sex. Throughout the film Emmi and Ali expand their romantic feelings toward one another, fall in love, and end up marrying each other. However, their marriage is looked upon negatively by those in their community, such as apartment tenants and nearby shop keepers, and Emmi is shunned and shamed by her coworkers, while Ali faces discrimination and racism at every turn. Emmi then introduces Ali to her three kids and they openly reject him with anger and hate and eventually decides that they should take a vacation to calm their minds and get away from the hate that pursues them. When they return, the community is nicer to them but only for the sake of seeing the gain in treating Emmi better, not because they have outgrown their racism. After caving into pressure by her coworkers, Emmi becomes stricter and treats Ali more like an object than a human, adopting the rest of her community’s xenophobic attitude. Ali leaves to go to the bar where they first met, the song they first danced to come on, and he collapses in Emmi’s arms due to a burst stomach ulcer. Emmi stays by Ali’s side in the hospital and proclaims she will stand by him and do everything in her power to make sure he is well again.
The first scene to be analyzed takes place at (0:25:00), where Emmi reflects on the conversation she just had with her coworkers about talking to and being romantically involved with a non-white foreigner. The shots are first focused on the different woman Emmi is speaking to but is filmed as different high angle and low angle shots in relation to where Emmi is standing in the room. The woman all say different racist remarks about foreigners and how all they want is sex, are dirty, don’t work hard, and that they would die of shame is they were involved with one. These remarks definitely have an effect on Emmi as her facial expressions are that of disgust and confusion. After the woman leave to go do their jobs, Emmi looks out a window as the camera, from outside the window, slowly zooms in on her and shows her staring blankly out of window for some time. The staging of characters from the perspective of mis-en-scene present a power dynamic that Emmi’s coworkers have over her. The various positions and focus of clear to blurry images of the woman enlightens the audience that they have influence over and might come to affect her attitude and decisions later on. The zoom of the camera shows Emmis split and uneasy conscience on the subject of dating Ali. She wants to be a part of her larger community and fit in but also wants to continue seeing Ali. She is not like her coworkers in that she is not closedminded and fearful of what she does not know or understand, she likes and trusts Ali and sees him as anyone else but simultaneously is fighting her view of xenophobia. In this moment at the window, Emmi represents the ideological balance between the anxieties of being an outcast and feeling isolated in her love life. Her coworker’s statement that nobody can live without others also further increases Emmi’s anxiety as she does not want to be alone in life and feels a strong connection with Ali. The aspect of mise-en-scene gives the audience a glimpse of not just the character’s emotional state and thoughts but presents a metaphor of the changing ideology that society has on race related to Germany’s past of racial supremacy.
Continuing the theme of Germany’s past of racial divide confronted with the changing tide of ideological acceptance of foreigners, the second scene to be analyzed is at (0:40:03 – 0:43:03) where Emmi and Ali go to a nice Italian restaurant to eat. The camera shows Ali getting out of car and taking Emmi’s hand to go inside the restaurant. As they are walking in Emmi says, “This was Hitler’s favorite restaurant.” After some banter with the waiter about ordering food the camera takes a unique position. The cinematography of the shot shows Emmi and Ali sitting next to each other at the table, far away from the camera, and then shows a doorway in-between where they are sitting and others empty tables on each side of them. Combined with the verbal cue from earlier, the shot represents a distancing from society. Since ideology “regulates the said and unsaid, the seen and unseen; and is an unconscious operation” (Fresko Class Notes), the interpretation can be shown that both Emmi and Ali are cutoff and literally segregated from society because of their differences. Hitler’s favorite restaurant represents that they are still living in a world where Germany’s past’s ideological views are still apparent in the larger context of their community. There is a clear separation of what the communities’ ideology is (past) and the modern evolving ideology and attitude of accepting foreigners and immigrants as equal. It is the couple against everyone else, and although Ali accepts his place in society’s hierarchy, is used to the hate towards him as an immigrant, and does not try to fight for an equal opportunity, Emmi must be ready to push back against society for the injustices being imposed on her new husband while continuing to fight her on feelings about the pressure she feels from everyone else. This scene drives home the metaphor for the audience of the prejudice, discrimination and toxicity that the two are now going to face from society and from each other as well.
The last scene to be analyzed is at (1:19:03) where Emmi introduces Ali to her coworkers in her apartment. The visual aspect of the thoughtful use of colors patterns within mise-en-scene presents a clear ideological divide between Emmi and Ali. While Emmi and her coworkers are all wearing different colored patterned dresses, Ali is wearing a plain white shirt. When introducing Ali, Emmi’s coworkers are fascinated by all of his characteristics, mostly is muscles and large stature, and are examining him like an object of affection instead of a human being. When Ali gets upset over how he is being treated he leaves to go to the bar where they first met. Instead of defending Ali’s honor, Emmi blames him leaving on his foreign mentality. The color scheme of the women’s dresses represents that Emmi has become influenced by the outside societal pressures of their misguided old world ideology. For this brief period of time Emmi falls under the dominant ideology and has left Ali alone in isolation. However, by falling backwards into this belief Emmi realizes the devastation that a segregated way of thinking can cause. According to the reading, ‘Cahiers du Cinema,’ “it is the job of criticism to see where they differ, and slowly, patiently, not expecting any magical transformations to take place at the wave of a slogan, to help change the ideology which conditions them” (Browne 60), meaning that Emmi is conditioned by her old fashioned ideology in this moment but by doing so will make her slowly come around to the ideology that permits her and Ali’s love to be together. Emmi has become a victim of society, her transformation back to being with Ali showcases her fighting spirit and going against the grain towards marginalizing those who do not fall under the hegemonic structure.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul tells a story about how love and understanding other’s difference can overcome and conquer the dominant structure of Ideology that determines society’s actions. Throughout the film multiple metaphors are made for the audience to understand the larger context of how past beliefs and ideas come to clash with new ways of thinking and the pressure of society that can either allow or disallow these ideas to flourish. The message of the film elicits a response in analyzing how fear and not understanding something can result in the hindrance of progress and justice for equality. The new ideology represented by Emmi and Ali attacks the old ideological view held by society in the form of ideological assimilation by showing small anxieties and fears will end up destroying you.
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