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Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, 1974

A widow named Emmi (Brigitte Mira) seeks shelter in a Moroccan bar one evening, where she meets Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), a Moroccan man about 25 years her junior. After a night of deep conversation and a surprising physical connection, the two become an item. But as the community around them--including Emmi's family and friends--react to the bi-racial, May-December romance, some ugly behaviors rear their heads.

I imagine that this HoF will mostly involve great movies just narrowly elbowing each other out of the way for the top slot. This was a great first film to watch for the challenge.

The strength of the film, in my opinion, is the depth and complexity of the two main characters and, by extension, their reaction to the bigotry that they begin to encounter. Their affection for each other, born from a mutual empathy, is believable. At the same time, the rift that begins to develop as time goes on is also believable. Emmi doesn't like the stress of suddenly being "the other", and Ali reflexively feels demeaned when he is pushed to be "less foreign."

The main strain that we see on Emmi's side is what happens between her and her friends and her family. The women she works with suddenly ignore her, even moving away during a lunch break like a group of petulant teenagers in a high school cafeteria. Her children shame and mock her for her choice. As an older woman who seems to be relatively socially isolated--outside of the women who live in her apartment building--she is particularly sensitive to being cut out of friendships.

On Ali's side of things, we see the many small ways in which not being a "real" German is constantly shoved in his face, both around town and at home. The local grocer deliberately "misunderstands" Ali's slightly-fractured-but-understandable German when he tries to order at the store. And at home, which should be a safe haven, he gets pressure from Emmi in what might seem like small ways. But even something as small as Emmi refusing to cook couscous feels like a rebuke, and you can understand why Ali feels stifled.

I liked that the film showed a range of responses to the couple. For example, Emmi's landlord at first takes Ali to be a subletter. When Emmi explains they are engaged, he is hardly fazed, and merely concludes that she knows what she's doing and it's none of his business. Later, when a neighbor tries to say cutting things about the couple, he smoothly shuts her down about it. Some other characters take the attitude of "Yeah, it's a bit weird, but so what?" On the other hand, no one really advocates for the couple or strongly takes their side. It feels like a very realistic depiction of bigotry--a few loudmouth creeps surrounded by a lot of "neutrals".

Both Ali and Emmi have a crisis of sorts in the final act of the film. I did feel as if Emmi's arc was a bit better realized. "Fear eats the soul" seems to best fit what she is going through--agonizing over how she is being treated and will continue to be treated. Ali's actions make sense, but we don't get the same depth of understanding about how he processes everything.

Really solid film with great performances and a message of tolerance/empathy that I appreciated.