There are all sorts of reasons to see Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (debuting this week on Blu-ray, via The Criterion Collection), but here’s the one that finally clinched it for me: when they go see it in Middle of Nowhere. By inserting the earlier film into a later one, Nowhere’s director, Ava DuVernay, isn’t just telling us something about the kind of people who inhabit her story; she’s also savvily commenting on the kind of story she’s telling. And she’s not the only filmmaker to employ this very clever trick.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul in Middle of Nowhere
On their first date, Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and Brian (David Oyelowo) go to the movies, to a revival house that’s screening Fassbinder’s 1974 masterpiece. It is a tentative date, to put it mildly; Ruby is feeling a bit lost, a nurse married to a man in prison who’s just discovered that he’s been unfaithful with a guard. Brian is a kind bus driver who has taken a shine to her. Even if an interest or attraction exists, the relationship is, to say the least, complicated — much like that of the old German cleaning woman and the young Moroccan laborer in Ali. And like Fassbinder, writer/director Ava DuVernay sees beyond her characters’ stock types, and finds her film in the complexities of their transactions.