Movie Project #20: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [1974]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [1974]

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [1974]
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Country: West Germany
Genre: Drama/Romance
Starring: Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem, Irm Hermann
Running Time: 94 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had never seen a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film.

Accolades: Won FIPRESCI Prize and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes Film Festival, part of the Criterion Collection and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies

Here’s a story that would have never happened if it weren’t raining one night in West Germany.

Emmi Kurowski (Brigitte Mira), a 60-year-old widow, stops in at a local bar to wait out the rain on her walk home from work. She hasn’t had a drink in years, but she is drawn in by the exotic Arabic music heard inside. Upon entering, it’s as if time stops. The locals, mostly Arabs, stop and stare at her as she meekly takes a seat at the very first table. The server, Barbara (Barbara Valentin), slowly makes her way to the table, allowing Emmi to order a Coke.

The bar patrons continue to snicker at the newest visitor, hardly hiding their disgust. One of the women in the group snarkingly suggests that one of them, Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), goes to ask her to dance. Much to her surprise, Ali takes her up on the offer, and even more surprising, Emmi accepts the dance. The two of them share a tender moment, and he offers to walk her home.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [1974]

It’s still raining when they arrive, so Emmi invites him in for coffee. She professes her loneliness since her husband died, and Ali shares his own similar feeling — his days feel empty, composed of nothing but work and booze. They bond, he stays the night.

From here, they become a romantic couple, much to the surprise (and chagrin) of others. The age barrier is striking — there is at least a 20 year difference between them — but it’s the color of their skin that raises the most grievances. Ali is Morroccan, and during this period in West Germany, racism toward Arabs and other minorities is unfortunately commonplace. Foreign workers are “treated like dogs”, as Ali once states, and it is unfathomable to become romantically linked to one.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [1974]

Emmi’s own children, now adults with their own families, even frown upon her new lover. One of them, her oldest son, smashes her living room TV upon hearing their news. At work, Emmi’s cleaning lady friends banish her from their little gossip circle, forcing her to eat lunch on her own. Ali is treated like dirt everywhere he goes — the local grocer, despite Emmi’s loyal patronage for years, even refuses to serve him since Ali speaks broken German. It’s all quite sad, really, especially as the blatant racism is so in-your-face.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul tells the most unconventional of love stories, but it beautifully shows that love knows no bounds. Unfortunately, its other message is still as relevant today, as racism is still a global issue with no sign of going away. How much disrespect can one person take before they snap, or their body just can’t handle anymore?

9/10

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Movie Review: 42 [2013]

42 [2013]

42 [2013]
Director: Brian Helgeland
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie
Running Time: 128 minutes

Jackie Robinson will always be known as the first African American to play in Major League Baseball, but many seem to forget that he was also a damn good player. In a ten year career, he was a 6-time All-Star, an MVP winner, Rookie of the Year, and a World Series champion. In the new biopic, 42, his excellent career is only glossed over in favor of taking a look at his tumultuous first season.

First, we begin in 1945. Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) is looking to improve his team and comes up with an unfathomable idea — why not sign a talented African American player? While there was no rule against letting minorities play Major League Baseball, there was an unwritten code that every team adhered by. After taking a look at several of the big names in the Negro leagues — including Roy Campanella and Satchel Paige — Rickey settles on the then 26-year-old Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), citing his strong demeanor and ability to withstand verbal abuse.

42 [2013]

Jackie, accompanied by his lovely wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie), spends a season in the minor leagues before hitting the majors in 1947. As soon as he steps on the field on Opening Day, Jackie is surrounded by reporters. This is commonplace, as is the racist heckling from the crowd, written death threats and even petitions against him from his own teammates. It’s hard to believe that just over 60 years ago, the U.S. was so heavily segregated. Toilets, water fountains and even baseball stadiums were divided, with different lines for “whites” and “colored” patrons.

Many of the character interactions in this film are downright disgusting, and sadly enough, most of them actually happened. The most notorious example is when Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) attempts to rattle Robinson while he’s at the plate by spewing racial epithets at him over and over again. Chapman is relentless, and this is when Jackie reaches his breaking point. Is he really ready to do this? Can he continue to handle all of the pressure bestowed upon him as MLB’s first African American player, essentially a trailblazing pioneer? Of course, we know the answer to this.

42 [2013]

It’s somewhat disappointing that 42 only focuses on Jackie’s first season, simply because he had an impressive career with many noteworthy moments. This makes sense from a film perspective since it gives director Brian Helgeland a chance to portray Robinson in the brightest possible light (which I have no complaints about), but it still feels like there is just so much more to tell.

The film is given the full Hollywood treatment with tried-and-true cliches, dramatic music and a number of heavy-handed scenes (I half-expected Steven Spielberg’s name to be attached to the project), and it concludes with notes on what later happened to Jackie and a select few teammates. While I was fully expecting this “where did they go?” epilogue, it was bizarre to see notes given on players who weren’t even named in the film. Much of the supporting cast (re: teammates) are briefly acknowledged by a first name, if we’re lucky, and they all just blur together. While it’s nice to know Ralph Branca played for three different teams in his career, why should the audience care when he was given maybe a few lines in the movie?

42 [2013]

Regardless of these head-scratching end notes, it should be stated that the entire cast did a hell of a job with their roles. Chadwick Boseman perfectly nails Jackie’s baseball mannerisms, and Harrison Ford hits one out of the park with his scenery-chewing performance as the cigar-chomping old codger running the Dodgers. An impressive array of character actors fills out the supporting cast, led by John C. McGinley as the legendary announcer, Red Barber, and Alan Tudyk as the racist manager, Ben Chapman.

42 is a serviceable biopic, and it hits all of the proper emotional notes. It is an important film, one that deserves to be seen, even though it may be too “Hollywood” for its own good. Jackie Robinson’s legacy is undeniable, and at the very least this film has deservedly brought him back into the forefront.

7/10