Rainer Werner Fassbinder Tony Rayns - Essay

Tony Rayns

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Like Rainer Werner Fassbinder's other recent imitations of life, Fear Eats the Soul [Angst essen Seele auf] achieves a remarkable balance between stylisation and realism….

The movie is an expansion/revision of a story told by a minor character in Fassbinder's own Der amerikanische Soldat [The American Soldier] (1970), and also a remake/revision of Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955). Its plot is an extraordinary mesh of low-key melodrama and social criticism….

Angst essen Seele auf begins like a fairy-tale: as in a dream, Emmi is lured into the Moroccan bar by the Arab music on its juke-box, and invited to dance for what is evidently the first time in many years. Stage by stage, everything that follows is hilariously—and agonisingly—predictable, Fassbinder plays on audience expectations so thoroughly that his exposition astonishes by its very exhaustiveness. The types of racial fear and prejudice are catalogued succinctly….

Fassbinder circumscribes the movie's area of interest by fading out on anything irrelevant to his direct concerns (the first night that the couple share; their turning-point holiday). He films his active characters in neutral mid-shots, never lending disproportionate weight to one or another in the compositions, and the legions of anonymous onlookers who provide the movie's moral 'context' in static, posed tableaux…. The overall approach invites comparison with other European critiques of American genres …; but Fassbinder is clearly as interested in vindicating Sirk as he is in using a rhetorical style to make his unequivocal statements on film. This 'politicised weepie' realises both aims with an assurance of a kind almost vanished from narrative cinema.

Tony Rayns, "Film Reviews: 'Fear Eats the Soul'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1974 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 43, No. 4, Autumn, 1974, p. 245.