My Name Is Not Ali (Jannat' Ali): Film Review

Dry doc fails to animate the mysterious star of "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul."

Viola Shafik's documentary explores the story of El Hedi ben Salem, a lover and collaborator of provocative German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

MONTREAL — Setting out to introduce us to one of the most intriguing characters in the circle of Rainer Werner Fassbinder but finding little more than a cipher, Viola Shafik's My Name Is Not Ali touches on the dark side of the director's famously rambunctious social/creative process but will be of interest mainly to obsessives.

Best known for playing Ali, the young Berber laborer whose relationship with an older German woman is recounted in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, El Hedi ben Salem was credited on close to a dozen Fassbinder films and was the director's lover for some time. Meeting some of their collaborators at the start of the doc (one of whom shared Fassbinder's sexual attention with Salem in a short-lived "trio"), we first seem to be hearing the sad rise-and-fall of an affair in which Salem had no hope of becoming an equal partner.

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Then Shafik travels to Tangiers, meeting many members of Salem's family and spending far too much time discussing Fassbinder's misguided decision to bring Salem's two teenaged sons to Germany -- handing them off to actors to raise while viewing them as his own sons. It's an ugly story, but one that is poorly explored here and tells us much less about the boys' biological father than we might expect.

Haphazard consumer-grade video footage doesn't help the film's lack of focus. Neither does the suspicion that, somewhere out there, there are people or documents that might have brought this enigmatic man to life.

Director-Screenwriter-Director of photography: Viola Shafik

Producers: Onsi Abou Seif, Viola Shafik

Editor: Doreen Ignaszewski

Sales: Mec Film

No rating, 92 minutes