HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971) 46 years later


I first showed the film (on VHS?) to a group of my friends around 1999 on the recommendation of one of the women. She mentioned that she saw it with her sons and they found it hilarious. My reaction at the time was rather negative and although I liked the black humour scenes I did not relish the sequences involving car/police chases and I found Ruth Gordon’s mannered acting irritating. Around 2010 with a new membership of the film group and the release of a dvd I saw it again. This time I took more notice of its social satire and inventive cinematography (more of this in the next post)
This year there were 10 of us.
– I felt from the beginning that it would not have a happy ending so could not laugh.
– Black comedy which shocked, anarchy without responsibility but its message of find your own way to expressing yourself has much to be said in its favour in a society (U.S.) which in the 70s demanded conformity. I really laughed hard at many of the incidents, found the attachment to each other tender, poignant and in the end doomed to disappointment so she took the brave way out. I noted she was concentration camp survivor so had determined to live different kind of life. At times a fantasy, At the end I did not expect him to kill himself so I was not surprised he survived – that honoured what she taught him -LIVE. I really enjoyed it all even when I was shocked by the first “hanging”.
– Very funny and iconoclastic . Redolent of the youth culture of the period. Great film.
– While I ‘got’ what the film was about I did not find it particularly funny.
– Wonderful performance by Bud and Ruth with her anarchic spirit overcoming his nihilistic tendencies. Great antidote to militarism and nationalism – a positive ending, choosing when to go.
– I found the film uplifting and life affirming (although not funny, in the way others in the group did!). I first saw it when I was aged about 16, the age Harold is meant to be, and that was 45 years ago, so I’m now closer to Maude’s age. So my thoughts about how old Maude is, feel different now. But a message of ‘seize the day’ or ‘if you want to sing out sing out’ is relevant at any age.
– A fairy tale – and the reason why I did not mind her unstoppable ‘life-fulness’. I didn’t realise in my first viewing that she was a holocaust survivor. Very funny – laugh out loud film. The mother was amazing. Liked it more this time.
– Dark humour – hilarious. We fell in love with her too. So an impossible love is entirely possible. Of its time . Life affirming
– The film brought up a lot of feelings for me especially Maude’s background.

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Caramel (2007)

The film group film this month was Caramel. I had presented it in 2011 at the Lexi cinema to a general audience at the U3A matinée. They loved the film. On release in 2007 the critics and reviewers were in the majority very positive and it was distributed internationally. I was surprised by the variety of responses of the film group this month.
– It represents well the of diversity of Lebanese society.
– Lebanese Steel Magnolia
– Have there been any changes in women’s oppression in the last 10 years?
– Slow
– Waiting but nothing happens
– Boring.
In the subsequent discussion however the details of the lives of the women, society pressures and their solidarity and friendship were commented on.
I find it difficult to be objective about the film as I lived in Beirut in my formative years and understand Arabic. I appreciate its realism and enjoy its very special humour.
It has been described as a chick flick, a romantic comedy, but under the light-hearted surface lies an acute observation of the difficulties of women’s lives, their solidarity and resilience, the way they confront pressures with wry humour.
The title sequences set the mood by showing the preparation of the mixture of sugar and lemon that makes the caramel. The sweet and sour concoction can be eaten but is painful when used as a depilatory paste.  The action takes place mainly in a beauty  salon called ‘si Belle’ in a modest part of Beirut. The B letter is seen hanging lopsided on the facade. The clientele and the beauticians are ordinary people.
The film deals with two groups of women and their problems. The beauticians are young. Love and relationships are the driving emotional force. For the other group it is ageing that is the main issue.
Layale (writer/director Labaki) is Christian. She is the owner of the modest salon. She lives in a small flat with no privacy. An affair with a married man dictates her behaviour. She leaves her clients at the sound of a car horn or a phone call to make love in his car parked in a waste ground. To celebrate his birthday she has to search for a hotel but her booking is only accepted in a dingy one that prostitutes use. She spends the day cleaning and decorating the room but the lover does not appear. Her friends come to the rescue and they enjoy the birthday cake together.
Nisrine is Moslem. She is engaged and soon to be married with a conventional Moslem man. She is welcomed by his big traditional family. Before her visit she has to transform her appearance from a modern dressed young woman to an all concealed body. On the eve of her wedding, in a touching mother/daughter talk she is given advice on sex in veiled terms: “don’t be shy…. you will get used it”. But Nisrine is not a virgin.
The third worker in the Salon is Rima. She takes care of technical problems and duties that involve physical strength. In erotic hair washing scenes it is obvious that she fancies her repressed client with beautiful long black hair who comes back a few times and finally has a liberating haircut. Both Nisrine and Layale recognise that Rima is lesbian without actually expressing it.
The friendship of this group is expressed through their acting and especially the way they look at each other in an understanding way without words.They also have supporting roles in each other’s lives. Layale is tricked into visiting the wife and home of her lover. This will lead to her giving up on him. Here we see the class difference between the working women of the Salon and the more affluent client. Nisrine in a hilarious scene where she pretends being French is accompanied to the clinic where she is to have her hymen restored. Rima is forced to accept a beautification session to attend Nisrine’s wedding celebrations.

The three other main characters raise the issues of the effect of ageing on women. Jamale, a divorced mother of two is menopausal. Her ex-husband neglects his children in favour of his new partner. An over-the-top performance recalls some of Mike Leigh’s middle-aged women characters. Her work as an actor depends on her looks. She makes a big fuss about her hairstyle at the Salon. At an audition for a commercial she fakes a blood stain on her dress to indicate that she still has periods. Also in the presence of young women in the toilet queue at Nisrine’s wedding she indicates that she is menstruating. (I think it is the only film scene where menstrual blood is mentioned.)
Rose the older seamstress lives and works next door to the Salon. She is called Auntie by the beauticians as is the custom in Lebanon. She is quite close to the three women. She refuses the offer of free hairdressing until a French man who came for some alterations to a suit asks her out. But the responsibility of looking after her dementing older sister makes her abandon all hope of escape.
Lilly lives in a past love relationship and is part of the street life. She collects bits of paper, and car parking tickets  as billets doux. In a scene she over makes up her face in mockery of her sister getting ready to meet her date. In her dementia she is very manipulative, she devises effective ways to prevent her sister from meeting the French client. Both Rose and Lilly are devout Christians.

The men are next to insignificant. The married lover is not seen at all. The local traffic policeman in love with Layala, initially teased by the young beauticians, gets together with her at Nisrine’s wedding. The older Frenchman admirer of Rose, the damaged shop sign of the salon and the use of French in the most hilarious scenes satirise the French  speaking of some of the middle classes of Beirut.

Nisrine’s wedding is the occasion of a joyous Lebanese celebration in the open background of the mountains. Rima’s poem, singing, dancing, and Layala with her policeman gives us the feel good effect. But the slight narrative of this slice of life film leaves us with many questions on the fate of these working women who live in Beirut and show resilience in coping with the many restrictions they have to face in their lives.

The film ends with a long shot of Rose and Lilly walking away down the street. A touching end where we see Rose picks up precious bits of paper from the floor and gives them for Lilly to cherish.  .



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A member of our film group sent me a link to an article by Tom Lamont.

The 21st. century has seen a revolution in how we consume cinema, from streaming a movie the day it is released to forking out for a plush boutique experience. How did we get here and how do we navigate the new landscape ?     As traditional behaviour has changed, so has tradition: that well-grooved route for a movie,  for instance, from cinema to DVD to telly, is now crisscrossed and complicated by internet-enabled detours.

I tried to read further but I must admit that I gave up and skimmed the rest. I am not interested in this young man’s account of viewing Woody Allen’s films and his history of modern ways of viewing.

Yes THAT IS IT – I admit it I am old, all used up, elderly, old fashioned, intolerant.

I am over the hill. Yes but I refuse to look at films as a side dish one consumes as entertainment during a night out, or as a private pleasure in the intimacy of a comfortable home or indeed on-the-go on a mobile phone. At the age of sixteen I used to read Andre  Bazin’s intelligent reviews and searched everywhere to obtain a copy of Les Cahiers du Cinema. I grew up going to the cinema in a group and discussing and arguing the meanings of scenes, of shots, of messages. I grew up viewing Westerns in popular cinemas where the whole audience shouted encouragement to the goodies and hissed the baddies. I grew up seeing foreign films in small halls as precious work of art.

And in spite of the streaming, the DVDs, the renting, the outdoor screenings, I still believe that films are to be viewed in company, when the sharing of feelings and thoughts are part of the experience. Where a different perception enriches one’s own. I still think that films are best seen when they are just released so that we oldies do not forget them and are able to talk about them with our friends.

There are all over the country small groups of people organising group clubs and sessions who insist on getting together to see films, learn about films enjoy this wonderful art. Our U3A has two film groups. Our community library shows a film every week: the classics mainly but they also have children sessions. (Unfortunately the adult screenings are scheduled for the evenings. Why aren’t old people catered for I ask myself? going out in the evening is not easy if you live on your own with no transport.)

I come back to Lamont  who  uses two French words to talk about independent and or small screen cinemas: Bijou and Boutique. A quick google search – French and English sites – does not inform me on the definition of these two words in this context. Lists of the best ones differ markedly.

Lamont choses the Lexi as one of the best 5 ‘boutique’ cinemas in the country. On Sunday I went with my partner and daughter to the early evening screening of A United Kingdom. It was evident that some of the people in the auditorium knew each other. The cinema is obviously a local cinema where the viewers conversed at the bar before the screening and probably would do so about the film after the screening. The cinema is run with the help of volunteers and all profits go to charitable projects. It is good to see friends at a screening and to know that one is contributing to a charitable cause. But I am upset that the Lexi does not advertise more clearly its matinees and subtitles* sessions or the fact that once a month the local U3A (University of the Third Age) meets to view and discuss the film.** There are no wireless audio-description headsets for film that have the facility and I still do not know if there is a working induction loop.

For a screen with good accessibility see The Phoenix in Finchley a ‘community’ cinema. A screen with a long history and real care of its audience.

*(for the hard of hearing)

**These sessions are open to everybody and are at reduced price.

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The Barbarian Invasions (2003)

Not a film about an ageing woman but about a man dying of cancer. How come all the praise, the awards, the commercial success and the admiring critiques and reviews,

I tend to agree with Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian 20/02/2004) and not waste my time:

grotesquely overpraised,   Everything is shot through with middlebrow sophistication, boorish cynicism, unfunny satire, a dash of fatuous anti-Americanism and unthinkingly reactionary sexual politics – all of which utterly cancels out the movie’s final petition for sympathy on behalf of its leading character, Rémy (Rémy Girard) the left-ish academic womaniser from the original film.

More than this all the characters are conceited, smug, pompous, crass. But what infuriated me in this highly gendered film is the nasty sex talk,  the underlying sexism and the tear jerker end…

I must admit one image that I found truthful is the messy, chaotic hospital atmosphere. A thought experiment: replace  Remy by  a woman in the last days of her life.







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Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. An older woman’s view.

When I first saw Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, years ago I did not record my thoughts or the film group’s. I just remember that I had a strong feeling that Fassbinder explored ageing and ageism as well as racism in this film. I viewed it again this month with a new film group.
Rereading some reviews I am appalled by the inaccuracy of some observations, and the bias of some interpretations. There are also questionable comments about the old woman Emmi. The film has provoked a lot of reviews, articles, analyses, essays from different points of view. It would be too big a task to challenge the many unwarranted interpretations and omissions concerning the old woman and will only quote a few. But I will also consult papers that are helpful in explaining my reactions to this complex film. I will assume that my readers know the film and only examine Emmi’s role.

Emmi and Ali get to know each other: It is impossible to read the film without taking account of Judith Mayne: One is tempted to say that in Fassbinder’s films all human relations, bodily contact, even social hierarchies, and most forms of communication and action manifest themselves (and ultimately regulate themselves) along the axis of seeing and being seen. …
Contact that is physical in Fassbinder (especially in the early films) seems less decisive than eye contact, which covers the entire spectrum from extreme hostility and aggression (as in an early bar scene in FEAR EATS THE SOUL) to tenderness and caress, as in GODS OF THE PLAGUE or a number of scenes between Emmi and Ali in FEAR EATS THE SOUL.
When in the opening scenes Emmi enters the bar and sits down, she is stared at by a group of people at the other end of the bar.  She looks tentative in her black coat and her wet untidy  hair.  A wide angle shot makes her appear very small. A cut to the end of the bar reveals a blond woman behind the bar, two men standing at the bar and, in the background four more people. The bartender and owner (BO she has no name), walks towards Emmi (a zoom on two of the men at the bar. Ali is tall with abundant hair moustache beard and dark complexion.) BO is a statuesque blond-haired woman in a low cut black dress, and red boots. She bends towards Emmi. Emma with an embarrassed smile : Excuse me but it is raining so hard outside and I thought Emmi you better get inside that bar. I pass by here every evening and hear that foreign music. In what  language are they singing? When she is told it is Arabic she replies Arabic, I see . But the bar owner  continues: We have German stuff in the jukebox too. Nearly half. But they prefer stuff from back home. Of course – says Emmi and she looks at the group at the end of the bar. The group returns the looks. Then BO helps Emmi to choose a drink. During this exchange the two women look at each other and although BO is rather cold and distant she does not show antagonism.  On the way back to the bar:   She’s nuts. Talks a blue streak. A young dark-haired small woman in an orange T-shirt (OT)  at the bar : Maybe she does not get a chance to talk otherwise.  BO: probably.
Leaning on the bar OT  stares at Emmi. She turns round to Ali Well are you coming or not? Ali: No . OT: Why? Ali: cock broken. OT: all right then. She walks away in a huff to the juke box forget it then. BO serves Ali and smiles at him when he says keep the change. There follows a series of quick takes ; OT stares at BO, turns her head to look at Emmi, back to OT staring, then again to Emmi who is drinking her cola, OT walks to Ali and her hand on his shoulder Why don’t you dance with the old girl?. Ali: Me dance with the old woman? OT: Why not?  your legs aren’t broken are they?  Ali’s companion enquires What’s up?  Ali: She says I should dance with the old woman. Ali raises his hand to his head: OK.
Apart from comments on the cinematography these initiating sequences have been ignored or dismissed by many. Ebert even writes: Back at the bar, the blond tauntingly dares one of her  customers  to ask the woman to dance.
The gaze on Emmi as she enters the bar sets her up as a lone person against the group. By refusing to acced to OT’s sexual demands we can safely assume that Ali refuses to be objectified.
It is easy to overlook OT’s intention if one ignores the direction of her stares,  but there is no doubt that she intends to humiliate the ‘old girl ‘Emmi, to take revenge. The term ‘old woman’ is spoken twice when Ali explains to his Moroccan friend this request.
Old girl, old woman, there is here a parallel between Ali who is treated as a sex object and Emmi who is cruelly mocked publicly by a younger woman.
Ali walks towards Emmi and stands behind her. Here again we see the importance of the ‘look’. He towers over her but as there is no face to face stance there is no threat. The dialogue reinforces Ali’s caring attitude.  Ali: Will you dance with me?.  Emmi: What dance? Ali: Yes you sit alone. Sad – not good sitting alone .  Emmi stands up and starts to unbutton her coat.  Why not , it must be all of 20 years since I last danced.  Taking her coat off. Maybe I can’t anymore. He helps with the coat. Don’t matter, dance very slow.
As Emmi follows Ali to the dancing corner of the bar,  OT asks BO to turn the lights down. In this dancing softly lit space that is usually associated with romance and intimacy  Emmi shows genuine interest in Ali, where is he from, how long has he been in Germany, what works does he do. She comments on his good German.  To his question are you married she replies her husband died two years ago. He tells her that he works with cars, and spend his evenings here with friends because the music is good. But feeling safe with this old woman he also expresses his feelings. He adds he knows no other place. Germans with Arabs no good, Germans not same people as Arabs. But it must be different at work she says . He replies German master, Arab dog at work. Better not think too much. Thinking much cry much.  
During this episode the bar people stare at them dancing talking and looking in each other’s eyes. The music stops, they bow to each other and regain Emmi’s table. As Emmi tries to pay for her drink Ali: You talk good with Ali, Ali pay cola. He divulges his real name: El Hedi ben Salem M’narek Mohammed Mustapha. Feeling protective he accompanies her home.
In the confined space of the stairwell they converse waiting for the rain to stop.  It is Emmi’s turn to confide about her life as a cleaner and the way she is looked down upon and laughed at. He assures her that he would not laugh. She looks at him and with a smile: No not you. She describes her working conditions. But cannot help herself from saying that he looks sad in his dark clothes. He is out of focus in the background and he walks towards her. Emmi : It is good to speak to somebody. I am alone most of the time. All the time really. My children have their own lives. Ali: you have many children?. Emmi: Three , two sons and a daughter, they all married .Ali: Where other town?. Emmi: No here but they live their own lives. We get together on special occasions but…Ali: With us in Morocco family always together. Mama never alone Mama alone no good. The expression on her face is of infinite sadness : Other countries have other customs. They look at each other. (Shots reverse shots.)
It is still raining and Emmi asks Ali to come and wait in her flat with a coffee and a cognac. It is no fun drinking alone.
In the framed kitchen the conversation continues. Emmi talks about her Polish – foreign worker husband – disapproved by her father who hated all foreigners and was a member of Hitler’s party . She also was a party member – everyone or almost everyone was. But she got on with her husband. Ali describes his Berber family. Making to go home he reveals that he lives a long way with 5 other workers in one room. She says it is not human he replies Arabs are not human in Germany. She decides to ask him to spend the night and prepares the spare room.
Ali cannot go to sleep and walks to her room. She is surprised: Ali: Much thinking in head and wants to talk with you (He sits next to the bed.) Ali: Much alone too, always working drinking nothing else. Maybe Germans are right, Arab not human. She reassures him: Nonsense you must not even think that, you said yourself thinking makes a person sad; though it is not really true that thinking makes you sad. of course not. (He caresses her arm). What else would we do with our time – all the years all the months and suddenly it’s over and what is there to show for it. Fade to black.
The morning after. She gets out of bed, looks back at him naked in her bed : MY GOD I… her expression is one of surprise, alarm. She runs to the bathroom and looks in the mirror. There are no close-ups of her face in the traditional mirror scene. The mirror surroundings are cluttered with sponges, towels, bottles. She briefly put a hand to her face. Ali opens the door good morning. They pause a moment looking at each other and fall into a loving embrace.
Cut to breakfast scene: Ali compliments Emmi for her good coffee: she boasts that she is a good cook and that he would like her cooking. On her way to a cupboard she puts her hands on his shoulders. and attempts to say  something:
E: Maybe … Oh nothing… Its just that an old woman like me
A: You not old woman. You good. Big heart
E: Really pleased. My God! (goes to him and they touch again. She cries),
A: Why cry?
They hold each other.
E: I’m so happy and so full of fear too. (caresses his face)
A: Not fear. Fear not good. Fear eats the soul.
E: Fear eats the soul. That’s nice. Is it an Arab saying?
A: All Arabs speak so. I must go.

I have studied in details the first 20 mins of the film to demonstrate how biased are some pronouncements about Emmi as an old woman. The dialogue shows trust and understanding between her and Ali and contains not a trace of racism – overt or internalised – but a process of getting to know the other: their situation but also their common feelings of isolation, loneliness and need for love and tenderness. The camera work, framing, acting shows the relationship progressing from looking and talking, to touch and sex in a natural way.

Jonathan Rosenbaum claims: Emmi is an avowed former Nazi *  who picks a particular Italian restaurant for her wedding dinner because Adolf Hitler once ate there; more generally, she’s frequently shown as being innocent to the point of stupidity.
Adam Bingham declares: Emmi, in particular, appears to have absorbed much of her society’s toxic attitudes to foreigners. ** 
Emmi is neither stupid nor racist.  Fassbinder in these first 20 minutes shows a deep understanding of the isolation and need for intimacy that is the experience of  both the old woman and the foreign worker.
Later on Emmi is shown dealing competently with the couples’ finances, or confronting the racist grocer. There are many scenes where Ali by caressing Emmi’s head comforts her when she is distressed. There are many instances where Emmi is ostracised for loving Ali, instances that stress her and eventually lead to her breakdown.

The look of others:
Coworkers: the staircase of a building where Emmi works as a cleaner during a break. In the foreground and speaking to the camera rather than her friends Emmi tentatively tries to share her experience and invents a story that an immigrant worker invited her to have coffee with him. The other women behind her in a group spout racist comments on foreigners and the German women who befriend them. She tries to defend the workers and the relationships to no avail: Maybe he talks to her and she does not need anybody else. Nobody can live without others is the response of one of the women. An apt prediction.
Daughter and son-in-law: I will quote: http://www.btchflcks.com/s=Fear+eats+the+soul
When Emmi first tells her daughter and son-in-law that she has fallen in love with a much younger man, they laugh. The thought of an old mother in love and lust is so impossible, so unnatural—horrific, in fact—that laughter is the only fitting response.
The landlord’s son: threatens Emmi with the eviction of her ‘lodger’. Horrified at the thought of losing her newly found happiness she blurts out that he is no lodger but that they are getting married.
Ah that’s different then I’ll be on my way then . You’re old enough to know what you’re doing. Says the landlord’s son.
Ali’s Moroccan friends:
Under the stare of the bar owner and OT the four men and Emmi celebrate and laugh together. Emmi is not aware of OT calling her a whore or spat at her. While BO shows a certain wisdom. Of course it won’t work. So what?
Waiter at the Hitler restaurant: from a distance the waiter stares disdainfully at the couple and when taking Emmi’s order purposely embarrasses her He really had me one the rack there. If you’re not used to things like that.
Family: quoting btchflicks.com again: When she introduces her children to her new husband, one son calls her a whore and another kicks in her television. In the eyes of her deeply conventional, racist children, Emmi is guilty of the most profane double betrayal—racial disloyalty and defilement of the maternal role. She is told to forget she has children. She cries and is comforted by Ali.
The grocer : After the grocer pretends he does not understand Ali, Emmi is on the war path and confronts the grocer with his racist attitude. To no avail he forces her out and bans her from his shop.
Neighbours: they demand that she should clean the stairs soiled by Ali’s presence. She protests and ask them to mind their own business.
Paula (a coworker)) flees at the sight of Ali in a bathrobe, refuses to shake his hand and escapes in horror.
Police: called by neighbours complaining about the noise of Ali and friends socialising in the flat. The two officers are civil and ask the music to be turned down.
Coworkers : their general racist comments in a previous scene are now directed personally at Emmi and she is overtly shunned and ignored. They walk away from her.

Emmi’s breakdown: while the policemen, the landlord, Ali’s friends and even the bar owner seem tolerant, it is the rejection of her neighbours, friends and family members that lead to her breakdown in the scene of the yellow garden.
In a 4 mins. sequence we hear Emmi watched in the distance by an immobile group of 4 men and 2 women confess to Ali how much she is affected by all the hatred directed at them. She goes from tears to sobs, distress to anger and shouts at the group. One can detect a very slight head movement of disapproving Ali. But he comforts her and there follows a mutual love declaration and a decision to go away. Emmi: When we get back it’ll be different. Everybody will be nice to us. Again the mise-en-scene (mainly camera movements, setting and acting) complement this dramatic outburst.
From racism to marital conflict: On their return the grocer instructed by his wife is overly friendly with Emmi to regain her custom. One of the neighbours greets her with false smiles only to ask her for some space in her cellar. Bruno, her son mentions the cheque he sent to pay for the broken TV and the fact that Albert has not forgiven her yet and then asks her if she would babysit because his wife needs to work. Ali whose body language expresses depression asks her if she would make couscous for him. Emmi had remained calm and cooperative but her acting is such that one reads on her face resentment and stress. Ali’s needy request is one too many and leads to her explosion.

How do the reviewers interpret these sequences? Both Laura Cottingham in the BFI booklet about the film and Fujiwara’s essay in the Criterion edition of the DVD skim over them. The general comments are that there is a reversal of Emmi’s attitude to Ali.
But it is possible to see these events from another point of view. It is true that Emmi orders Ali about in asking him to help the neighbours but the couscous episode has more depth. By examining Emmi’s facial expressions we can read that she remains aloof and dismissive of her neighbour’s smiles. On first seeing Bruno in the stairs she shows a glimmer of warmth that soon freezes and there is no more eye contact between them. When Bruno says goodbye Emmi does not even raise her head from the bowl where she is preparing some vegetables.

The couscous episode: Drink and food, coffee offering and breakfasts together, not mentioning the restaurant scenes play a part in Emmi and Ali relationship. Food is very important for exiles who bring with them their culinary traditions wherever they go. After contact with the racist neighbours, Bruno and inscrutable Emmi, Ali is depressed and needs some home food comfort. For Ali this request expresses an emotional need to be recognised after being objectified for his strength and youthful body. Emmi also feels used and sees this demand as yet another expression of her exploitation by others. She has a need to assert herself and lashes out: You should get used to the way things are done in Germany. People in Germany don’t eat couscous. … I don’t like couscous either.
This episode is more like a marital escalating row rather than a racist rant. It ends with Ali leaving Emmi to go to the bar to be alone. He reappears drunk on the floor in the middle of the night.

Fujiwara comments in the Criterion essay: The cruelest stroke comes when Emmi peeks out from behind her half-opened door at the prostrate Ali in the hallway, only to shut the door again.
It is also possible to see the scene as a familiar one involving a drunk husband and an upset wife without invoking ageist stereotypes as Fujiwara does: At this moment, she merges completely with the faceless role of a solitary, elderly urban apartment dweller living in mistrustful seclusion from the world outside.
In the subsequent breakfast scene the silence of a warring couple is glacial. They throw glances at each other but neither is prepared to talk. Ali leaves the table. Cut to Emmi’s workplace where she is greeted with pleasure and no ulterior motive. She sides with her two friends when they exclude a newly employed young worker from their deliberations on a pay demand: She is on a different pay scale. Emmi in her rift from Ali needs to belong and invites her two friends to discuss the matter in her house. There follow a painful scene to watch where Emmi displays Ali, his strength and muscles as a desirable object and where the women feel free to express their prejudices in front of him. Emmi comments on his youth. When Ali walks away Emmi compounds the insults. He has his moods. It’s his foreign mentality. It is the first and only time that Emmi expresses a view of Ali as ‘other’. It nevertheless feels like a saving face effort when she looks distressed as he walks away.

That night Emmi waits for Ali at the flat’s open front door and bursts into sobs when he does not come back. Cut to car workshop scene where three mechanics and Ali are telling jokes. Enters Emmi pleading: Where were you all night? I’v been worried sick. You shouldn’t do this to me Ali, you don’t have to say anything. Just come back. Ali remains impasssive. I need you Ali, I need you so much. This time the looks exchanged in shot reverse shots show no communication between the two. The other workers start mocking Emmi calling her Ali’s grandmother from Morocco. They laugh and for a split second we see Ali laughing also. They exchange looks again that ends on each of them bending their heads in turn and Emmi leaves.
The bar again. A group of men playing cards in the company of women. Ali is losing and asks his friend to get him some money from the flat. While he waits for the money he looks at himself in the toilet mirror and gives himself repeated slaps on both sides of his face. A wide-angle shot with game table and the group at the front and the door at the back. Emmi enters the bar and with more assurance than in the first scene orders a cola and asks the bar owner to put the Gypsy song that they danced to. Ali walks towards her and stands behind her again and asks her to dance. They embrace and dance together declaring their mutual love. But he falls on the floor groaning in pain.
Epilogue: In the hospital scene the two strands of this complex film come together in a  positive but frail way embodied by the relationship between a young foreign worker and an old woman:  the plight of foreign workers doomed to stress and ill-health and the love and determination of the old woman not to let this happen.

*About the meaning of Emmi mentioning Hitler often : L. Nottingham.  In the the 1970s Munich Hitler is no unapproachable allegory or grotesque ghost from the past. He is simply in the air
** Emmi does mention her racist father who hated her husband because he was a foreign worker – Polish.  She adds that she got on very well with him.

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The film I chose for the old women in film group this month was Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974) . I saw it a long time ago with a group in the context of old women in film but at the time I did not blog and only made informal notes.

As usual the post viewing discussion was very lively and interesting with different points of view and occasional references to the rise of racism in today’s climate.


  • A very painful film to watch, not only the distress of Emmi’s situation but the dreadful hatred and prejudice shown by the people around Emmi. Shades of Hitler , the connection is made. It struck me that it is the loneliness that can also eat away at the soul. For Ali and Emmi that is how it all started. I thought Emmi’s comments that people were also envious were also true but fanned by fear of the stranger/foreigner but also to do with the prejudice against older women having younger husbands  –  it is O.K the other way round.
  • Realised the dilemma both characters were in but did not warm to them. Film fed into what is  wrongly my ‘prejudice’ but I found the women somewhat pathetic although I know I shouldn’t have. Racism appalling. Did not like the male character at all – was he using her? Was there anything genuine about him? Still not sure.
  • Such a powerful film. Seen it 4 times and it is just as powerful – if not more so in the current climate. Ageism, racism are so well depicted – not only the effect from the outside but also how one internalises (part of what racism and ageism are about). And finally (sp…) the saturated colours of melodrama , the long framed shots of stillness, portraits of loneliness, isolation , struggle. Fabulous.
  • Date 60? improbable but …. large number of Moroccan workers in Germany at this time. Racist society coming to terms with post war times. Couscous : foreign workers to embrace German culture not vice versa. Shower misconceptions.
  • Wonderful moving film. Not only does it make an initially implausible -seeming relationship feel right, it goes on to explore it from different angles. The age factor is seen as less important than the insider-outsider one. It then ends with a very unexpected reversal – it will be the old woman who looks after and may well survive the younger man.
  • I became rather bored . She was a likeable person but so simple. The plot was pretty obvious. How horrible most of Germans were.
  • So seventeens in look. Ostensibly about racism but about power play in relationships as well. She begins being the more powerful force and gradually Ali takes the upper hand. Younger man and olde women. (Cafe scene like the last supper ). Action happens in doorways and mirrors a lot (framed by doorways). Camera mostly static, lingers over Ali’s face and body. Macochism  Why? slapping himself. Not explained why a mere vacation results in racism and fear of the unknown evaporate?




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A Korean film at the London Film Festival

This is just a signpost for the Korean film The Bachus Lady (2016) directed by E J-yong and featuring Youn Yuh-jung (aged 69) .

I managed to catch it at the ICA the first day of the London Film Festival. I found it fascinating to watch and thought provoking. I  have no knowledge of Korean films and this was a surprise.

Further comments when it is released on DVD or online.




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