Shahbaz Noshir’s Fear Eats The Soul — See It Or Skip It
How a 2002 re-imagining of a classic 1970s arthouse film shows the possibilities of short form cinema.
The Criterion Collection is known for its epic selection of films old and new, here and abroad. But did you know that you can also find short films as supplements in many of their releases? In this series of articles, we’re reviewing all the major short film supplements found in the Criterion vault. We’ll tell you the reasons to either see it or skip it, depending on what kind of filmmaker or film fan you are.
Shahbaz Noshir’s FEAR EATS THE SOUL (2002).
If you’re into international cinema and the title of this short film sounds an awful lot like Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats The Soul, that’s because you’re onto something. This short film was intentionally designed as a complementary piece to that film. The original feature took on brave social issues, including ageism and racism, in portraying an interracial couple who were several decades apart in age. This short film, nearly thirty years after the original film, reimagines the scenario. There are stunning similarities (especially in casting) and important stylistic distinctions — all of which we’ll dive into now.
See It: For The Incredible Use Of POV
Perhaps the most standout feature of this short is its visual impact. We go through the streets of a grimy, urban Germany through the eyes of a young, black actor, who’s on his way to the stage to perform his breakthrough performance. Unfortunately, on his way down into the subway, he runs into a Neo-Nazi gang. The camera is literally playing out this terror through his eyes, and we feel that immediacy. During the actual attack, Noshir and team wisely make dramatic cuts, implying the horror rather than presenting the violence outright. Most importantly though, the use of a POV camera never feels like a gimmick. It’s completely understandable why we’d want to be in this character’s shoes during a traumatic racial attack, then later on stage, and finally on a train, feeling the cool breeze against his palms. It’s experiential without being exploitative, and cinematic without being obvious.
To add another layer of interest and intrigue for film fans, the same director of photography and editor of Fassbinder’s 1974 classic were brought on for this project. At the surface, you couldn’t imagine two more differently-composed and edited films. It’s not only a testament to the versatility of the crew, but of the wide imagination to dream of a new way to tell a similar topic they’d covered so many decades ago.
Skip It: Not For The Faint Of Heart
Even if the violence isn’t always literally seen, you can’t help but feel the impact. Given the precariousness of current times, this may be a little too close to home, and a tougher watch than some need right now. The first-person perspective also heightens the feeling of claustrophobia and vulnerability. Even at 13 minutes, the short film brilliantly holds its sustained tension, which may be hard for some viewers to take. While Fassbinder’s feature Ali dealt with racism at the level of conversation and social politeness, Noshir gets right to the core of racist instincts, capturing racial transgressions at their most violent and raw.
See It: Gives An Important Social Message In Under 15 Minutes
For being such an experience-driven movie, it also manages to deliver an effective and telling story. Our main character gets beaten up, refuses to go to the hospital, walks to the theatre to play his part, gets rave reviews for his “honesty” (apparently seeing him bloodied and bruised is a virtue to the theatrical patronage), and is “rewarded” with a chance at a dream part.
Like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, this poignant short film deals with the price black bodies often have to pay to “get ahead”, which often ends up just feeling like a treadmill going nowhere. Or, even if one is working their way up a career ladder, the film begs the question — “is it worth it?”
The interracial romance isn’t front and center this time, but instead placed as a theatrical device. Coming out in 2002, it’s no surprise that this film plays more into isolation, paranoia and modern dread than its predecessors. Different time periods provoke different artistic reactions, even if the themes are the same.
Skip It: It May Confuse Anyone Who Hasn’t Seen Fassbiner’s Original
Perhaps the biggest element working against the film (for some) will be its deep connection to the original film. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll still get the visceral stylistics on display, but you may not get the deeper resonances. The most impactful and inspired decision of the short film is to re-cast Brigitte Mira. She played the older German woman in the relationship of Ali, and now — thirty years later — she returns to play out a scene identical to one in the film. Only this time, it’s a device. The scene is from a play and she is a stage performer. Without seeing both films, it’s easy to miss the striking choice to cast Mira, but also the resonances that come from it. Is the short portraying this kind of love story as less likely in 2002? (since the romance can’t even be a real one, but has to be put on the stage for people to believe it). How is it trying to connect to Mira’s original performance? Is this an ode to Fassbinder or something more? These kinds of questions are only interesting if you’ve seen both Ali and this 2002 short film. So, instead of ‘Skip It’, how about ‘See It’ after you’ve seen the 1974 film!
If you like short films in the Criterion Collection, then you’re going to love Miniflix! We have a great selection of award-winning and festival-qualifying short films, made by directors from around the world. Learn more or start your free trial here.