Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
The wildly prolific German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder paid homage to his cinematic hero Douglas Sirk with this update of that filmmaker’s 1955 All That Heaven Allows. A lonely widow (Brigitte Mira) meets a much younger Arab worker (El Hedi ben Salem) in a bar during a rainstorm. They fall in love, to their own surprise—and to the outright shock of their families, colleagues, and drinking buddies. In Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Fassbinder expertly wields the emotional power of classic Hollywood melodrama to expose the racial tensions underlying contemporary German culture.
Criterion upgrades their previous 2-disc DVD edition of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul to Blu-ray with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer. The new presentation is delivered on a dual-layer disc in the film’s original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1.
The improvement is drastic over the old DVD, and it comes as a fairly big surprise. Getting a whole new 4K restoration, the film has a new vibrancy to it that I never would have expected. Details are staggering throughout from long shots to close ups, and despite a bit of an under saturated look to the film’s colour scheme they’re still marvelously rendered, looking pure and clean. Black levels are iffy in places, crushing out some details, but in general they look clean as well.
The digital transfer is also free of compression and noise, rendering the film’s grain structure superbly, while the print itself has been meticulously restored: if any damage remains I don’t recall seeing it. It really looks superb. Though the previous DVD managed to deliver a solid standard-definition transfer itself this new high-definition presentation clearly and drastically improves upon it.
The lossless 1.0 PCM mono track gets the job done but that’s about all I can say. Despite clear dialogue and adequate music (what little there is of it) the track is hopelessly flat, more than likely a product of the original recording. Still, it’s clean and clear, without any noise or distortion to distract.
Most of the supplements appear to have been carried over from the previous 2-disc DVD edition Criterion released. The first supplement is a short film called Angst isst Seele auf is also included. From the first person perspective of a black man it portrays a racist attack by a group of skinheads while he's on his way to the theater for his performance as Ali in a stage version of Fear Eats the Soul, which also has Brigitte Mira. It's based on a true account that the director himself, Shahbaz Noshir, faced. It's fairly brutal but is nicely done, the first-person telling never feeling like a gimmick. Unfortunately it hasn’t been upgraded for this release and simply looks like a standard-definition upscale. The film runs a little over 12-minutes.
Also carried over is an introduction by director Todd Haynes that runs about 23-minutes. The director of Far From Heaven (which, like Ali, is also inspired by Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows) talks about the film, Fassbinder, and, of course, the obvious Sirk influence, not only on this film but Fassbinder’s work as a whole, as well as Haynes’ own (he actually discovered both directors at around the same time.) This also allows the Haynes to make comparisons between Fassbinder’s and Sirk’s respective films. It’s an interesting examination of the two filmmakers’ films dealing with similar subjects, and the obvious influence that Sirk was on Fassbinder.
You then get two interviews, both lasting 25 and 22-minutes each respectively. You'll find one with a very Brigitte Mira, who discusses working on this film, with Fassbinder on other projects, other adaptations including the stage play, and so on. You will also find one with editor The Eymesz, who talks about Fassbinder’s early films, the development of their style, and working on Fear Eats the Soul. Both are packed with information about the director, making both excellent additions.
You'll next find a roughly 32-minute BBC documentary called Signs of Vigorous Life: New German Cinema. It looks at the German new wave, including directors Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Fassbinder and others. Though it can be a little dry it still offers a solid introduction to the German New Wave and the films that were produced during the period.
An interesting little feature is an excerpt from one of Fassbinder's earlier films called The American Soldier, a film made well before Ali. The scene chosen has Margarethe von Trotta tells the story (to two people making love in bed) of an elderly woman who falls in love with a young Arab man. While the names and situations are somewhat different, the basic story for Ali is there in its entirety, showing that Fassbinder had probably been at least somewhat working on this film in his head early on. While not integral to enjoying the film anymore it’s an interesting inclusion. (As a note, you can find the complete film in Criterion’s Early Fassbinder Eclipse set.) It is presented as an upscale, looking to be the same presentation used on the DVD.
The disc closes with a theatrical trailer. Criterion also includes an insert featuring the same essay by Chris Fujiwara that was found with the DVD. Unfortunately a reprint of an article written by Michael Toteberg in 1990 on the film and the All That Heaven Allows influence is missing. The insert is also missing the nice composition and layout of the DVD’s booklet.
Other than the one essay all of the content appears to be here, delivering a fairly strong set of supplements about the film, new German cinema, and Fassbinder.
Sporting most of the same supplements and an improved transfer, this Blu-ray comes with a very high recommendation.