“Happiness isn’t always fun.”
Rainer Fassbinder was famous for working fast (he directed over forty films in fifteen years) but even by that standard, Ali was a quickie: he conceived it as a two-week filmmaking “exercise” to fill in a break between two other films, and as an homage to Douglas Sirk, whose 1955 All That Heaven Allows he had just seen. And yet the result is one of Fassbinder’s most powerful films, and most affecting love stories.
Whereas in the Sirk film, the only obstacle to love was Rock Hudson’s status as a gardener, and his eight-year age difference with Jane Wyman, Fassbinder pushes the idea much further. Ali depicts an abrupt and improbable love affair that develops between a German widow in her sixties and a Moroccan immigrant worker in his thirties. Their friends and family are horrified at this violation of racial and sexual taboo. But it is not only external prejudices that the couple must overcome, as Fassbinder’s unerring eye for emotional truth slowly reveals the much deeper barriers that lie within them.