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In 1970s Munich a middle-aged woman begins an affair with a young Arab mechanic. The local community is disgusted, but that's just the start of the couple's troubles in Fassbinder's film about interracial and inter-generational conflict
By 1973 Rainer Werner Fassbinder was well established as one of Germany's most fearlessly controversial filmmakers. Fear Eats The Soul (Angst Essen Seele Auf) was his first international success. Shot in just 15 days, it's a loose remake of the 1955 Douglas Sirk Hollywood melodrama All That Heaven Allows, and it bears Fassbinder's trademark mix of bitter cynicism, sensitivity and a fascination for those on society's margins.
Ostensibly a May-September romance, the story follows widow Emmi (Mira) as she meets and then marries Ali (Salem), an Arabic guest-worker in Munich. Their neighbours are unashamedly racist and the couple are treated with contempt. Emmi's son is so disgusted he kicks the TV in.
Fassbinder's film is as much about inner anguish as fear of the unknown. Shooting through windows and doorways, he uses understated but sophisticated visual motifs to emphasise the couple's alienation, and there's an added irony in the revelation that all this suffering is for nothing: they're bound by loneliness rather than love and before long Ali's humping the local barmaid. Ali, it transpires, isn't even his real name.
Finally the story runs headlong into a brick wall leaving several issues unresolved. But that, Fassbinder might say, is precisely the point of this sad but incisive slice of life.
A powerful attempt to deal with a range of serious issues as well as the characters' own complex psychologies. Visually and dramatically intense, it remains one of Fassbinder's finest.
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