Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

I’ve always needed to be a bit careful when I allow myself to see this movie. If I’m in a blue mood, an abyss can open up before me, watching this strange tale of unasked-for love between an old German cleaning lady and a strapping young Moroccan immigrant. There’s something cold and calculating in Fassbinder’s camera. He views people without their defenses. They are stripped bare, merely by the fact that Fassbinder (his camera) is looking at them. The camera is static, the characters seem posed within the frame, placed very carefully, until suddenly … alarmingly sometimes … the camera starts to move. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but if I had to label it I would say that his camera is both objective and subjective, in the very same moment. This, perhaps, could be said about all cinema, a psychologically revealing art, in its very nature. That’s what a close-up is: psychology. Subjective. No more proscenium. We are in there with the character’s thoughts and heartbeats. But the German woman, Emmi, and her lover Ali are placed strategically within these odd frames, seen through doorways or down hallways or from across the street, and when the camera moves … it seems to be operating as their emotions. The characters may be standing still, they may not even be talking, but suddenly, on invisible dolly tracks, the camera is moving, swerving, sometimes weaving in and out of scrambled chairs at an outdoor cafe … and it’s attention-getting, for sure, but not in a way that distracts. It is as though, in those moments, the camera becomes the characters, static though they may be. The inner life expressed in the curving moving camera.

Gotta be careful with this one.

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