Wyndham Hacket Pain discusses Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 melodrama
Rainer Werner Fassbinder first started making films in 1969, following radical experiments in German theatre earlier in the decade. Fassbinder started making films at the political peak of counter culture, with filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais, rejecting traditional narrative in order to express their left-wing feelings. His early films, like Love is Colder Than Death and Gods of the Plague, resembled this approach, both visually and narratively. These films were a dead-pan critique of German society, borne from a generation whose parents either fought or voted for Hitler’s Nazi rule. Fassbinder was fascinated by the ghosts of the past and the way that it haunted contemporary German life.
No one has ever shown social tensions in such as clear and understanding way, and been able to express so clearly why they should not exist
In 1971, Fassbinder’s approach changed. He went to see the American melodramas of Douglas Sirk and was profoundly changed by the direct tenderness of these stories. The films, which a generation of European filmmakers had rebelled against, became Fassbinder’s central inspiration. Fassbinder questioned the Marxist doctrine of European film and the easy contempt for Hollywood that it possessed.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul was loosely based on Douglas Sirk’s seminal film All That Heaven Allows. Fundamentally they are both about widows who marry men that society believes are unsuitable. Where Sirk created a film that critiqued the social tensions created by class, Fassbinder decided to show the underlying racial tensions in post-war German society. This was after-all, mere decades after the Second World War and the Holocaust. No one has ever shown social tensions in such as clear and understanding way, and been able to express so clearly why they should not exist.
As revolutionary of the films of the French New Wave were, perhaps the melodrama inspired works of Fassbinder are more radical. As much as the French directors were critiquing the approach of American filmmakers, their films often contained the same gender stereotyping as Hollywood. Fassbinder created films that treated women differently – they were no longer a cinematic accessory. With his tender approach, Fassbinder showed women who thought and acted for themselves, instead of reacting to the events happening around them. Behind the formal rigor of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, lies a powerful feminist statement.
Featured image credit: still from ‘Ali: Fear Eats the Soul’ via btchflcks.com