by Jaime Grijalba.
The first minutes of this German film directed by R.W. Fassbinder are among the most perfect representations of instant attraction that have ever made their way into a film, just by a simple succession of elements that on top of each other mean something deep and really important towards the multi-cultural and heavily sentimental aspects that the rest of the film will then explore. Just as the title announces, it is a movie about fear, about what people might say about you, and the fear of what you think about yourself, the fear of how much of that will actually destroy you, the fear of how much it would affect you, how much damage will that make to your personal life in the end, no matter how much you don’t actually care about what people are saying about you, it’s a movie that is bleak in the way that portrays the reprobation of the majority towards a subject, it’s a mean movie towards its protagonists, as it doesn’t leave them an easy way out, as it presents by itself when the fear has already run through the bodies of those who understand and lived it.
Brigitte Mira plays Emmi, a woman on her sixties that finds herself in an Arabic bar in Germany, where she tries to avoid the rain. Then is where she finds and meets Ali, an immigrant from Morocco who speaks some German and finds himself very interested in the life and conversation that Emmi has to offer. They both go to her apartment together to drink coffee, and later the attraction just can’t deny itself, as they sleep together. That’s when the first stage of fear tackles her and the relationship, as she is afraid of her own age and how she could even be with someone that is over 20 years younger than her, she is ashamed and at the same time clueless as towards what happened and how it could happen. Ali is quick to comfort her, to tell her that he doesn’t see her age, and that she shouldn’t be afraid, that the fear that she has will eventually eat up her soul, that she has to live what she has to live, as we understand it, that the fear that she has is understandable in the society that she lives, but in a way it’s not recommended if she wants to have her happiness.
Later the film continues with the other kind of fear, the one about what people say about you, and how much it affects you, as the relationship of Emmi and Ali quickly develops into marriage, and the deeply racist community of Germany at that time can’t possibly see this as any good, as her neighbors and co-workers find in her attraction and marriage an act of impurity and pure libido, and even one Arab woman says to Emmi that she is an old whore, as if she was only with Ali because of his youth and stupendous libido, but I’m guessing and I’m sure that the attraction that put them together goes beyond that, as sex wasn’t the thing that Emmi was going after when she entered the bar, nor when she invited Ali to spend the night (initially he slept in a couch, while she slept at her bed, it was Ali who came to the bedroom seeking solace). Even her family can’t fathom her decision, as he presents Ali as her new husband, the reaction of her sons and daughters (and their respective spouses) is something nasty and completely heartbreaking when you see it for the first time. It’s one of the best scenes of the film, as it reflects the state of German society intensely; where their racism can’t understand the true feelings of someone (even they call her own mother a whore because of her new love).
All of this comes into perspective when one tries to analyze the film in the shadow of a phrase that appears before the first credits: “Happiness is not always fun”. One must understand that in the second hour of the film, the whole situation makes an unexpected switch, where everything seems to go backwards as it used to be. While before she had the fear of what people thought of her, and she seemed to not care, while she cried silent tears in secret, all of the people that once criticized her are now happy with her relationship, as it doesn’t alter the way that she’s always been: helpful and nice to talk to. At the same time, while that hostile environment occurred, the relationship between Emmi and Ali couldn’t be better (the scene at the shower is memorable as a combination of lust and pure love combined), now that the ambiance is more calm, Ali starts to feel discomfort as he misses certain elements of his culture, and Emmi herself due to the acceptance starts to fall in the same sack of racism and bad conduct that the people had, as if to fit the status quo, taking advantage of the fact that they are suddenly ignoring the presence or the race of Ali in her life.
One of the most illustrative sequences towards that shift not only in Ali (who ends up sleeping with another Arab woman out of spite and homesickness), but of Emmi, who until that moment of the film seemed to be one of the most perfect human beings that we could ever know, as she embraced the character and persona of Ali (no matter his imperfections in language and mood) besides the race or the place where he came from, but suddenly we see her falling for the same tactics that were used on her at one time. Before the shift (signalled by a trip that the couple takes far away from the city in which they live), she is ignored by her co-workers as they take lunch, even not answering her pleas for a knife and then sitting even further from her; and later, they welcome her, but because they are talking bad about a new worker who comes from Yugoslavia, and they plan to ask for their boss for a raise, but they won’t invite the new girl, mainly because they think she’s not on the same pay rate as they are, something that Emmi agrees on because she wants to fit in badly, even though now is the new girl, a foreigner, who is ignored, and Emmi feels welcome and doesn’t want to spoil it by suddenly becoming a defender of those who are led astray by the misconceptions and the fear of the ‘other’.
It’s a harsh film, as Emmi falls into fear as the movie progresses and the relationship turns sour with time, we don’t want to see this beautiful romance that birthed out of incontrollable attraction end so suddenly because of the stupidity of both, or maybe we want to see them fail because we don’t want a couple that has lied or betrayed their own principles. But in the end we are given hope, hope and misery, it is not easy to maintain a happy relationship, it’s hard that romance maintains in time, it’s not always fun. And while for some time we could understand that Emmi saw the whole thing with Ali as a fun game, she quickly has to understand that the happiness that she wants, that calm happy state in which the inside and the outside are in harmony, is not always fun, it requires work, and it’s hard work that we all have to do if we want romance to continue, to continue the content state in which we feel when we are in love.