In Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul (Angst Essen Seele Auf, 1974) Emma (Brigitte Mira), a working-class widow and former member of the Nazi party, marries Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), a much younger Moroccan migrant worker. Set in Munich during the 1970s, the film melds the conventions of melodrama with a radical sensibility to present a portrait of racism and everyday hypocrisy in post-war Germany.
It is a film about the way conventional society detests anything and anybody unfamiliar – but also a film about the hopes and limits of love. Intricately directed, beautifully performed, and designed to show Munich life in all its shabby kitschiness, Fear Eats the Soul may be Fassbinder’s finest film.
Laura Cottingham celebrates Fassbinder’s achievement, placing Fear Eats the Soul
in relation to his extraordinarily prolific career in theatre, film and television. Her analysis pulls back the thin curtain that separated his work from his tumultuous life. She also explores the director’s debt to the lush Hollywood melodramas made by fellow German Douglas Sirk, especially All That Heaven Allows
(1955). In a detailed scene-by-scene analysis, Cottingham shows how Fassbinder managed to combine beauty and tenderness with fierce political critique.