This is a film of love and loneliness – and also racism and ageism in post-war Germany – and is a inspired by Douglas Sirk's films (and All That Heaven Allows in particular). One evening Emmi Kurowski (Brigitte Mira), an elderly widowed cleaning woman, shelters from the rain in an café unknown to her: the blank stares are mainly due to the fact that she is in a bar frequented by north Africans. Ali (El Hedi ben Salem) is more than twenty years younger than her asks her to dance to a jukebox record. They do so and leave together, Ali walking her to her flat. As it's raining she invites him in for a coffee and a few brandies, and as she desperately wants her loneliness to be held off she asks him to stay, which he does. But in the spare bedroom he can't sleep, knocks at her door and she is stunned but delighted to have found a lover.
The slander mill begins and the racism of the neighbours comes to the fore. Immigrants, of course, are dirty, only want money and sex, and are idle. While Ali works in the car factory Emmi goes to her daughter Barbara (Barbara Valentin) to announce that she's in love, and her son-in-law Eugen (Fassbinder himself) is pretending to be on sick leave, although he's evidently perfectly well in his vest, swilling beer, ordering his wife around and spouting hypocritical clichés about the worthlessness of immigrants. Emmi is undeterred.
It's significant that, when the lovers (for they are lovers) get together again that night, Emmi cooks him a meal and Ali insists on giving Emmi money for the hospitality he's received. That same night the landlord's son visits and tells Emmi that she's breaking her lease by subletting the property, although Emmi responds that she's marrying Ali: landlord's son and scandal mill silenced.
The unusual couple do indeed marry and Emmi later introduces him to her dumbstruck family, one of her sons reactions being to kick in her television set. He later sends a cheque to replaces the set, Ali even shakes his hand when her son apologises, but the damage is done, and anyway they've already had to go through the trauma of her racist local shop owner in effect refusing to serve her husband who he says can't even speak German.
Emmi herself falls into a racist trap by having her work colleagues meet him and feel his muscles, treating him as some kind of circus exhibit, and she doesn't want to cook him his beloved couscous. Inevitably he falls into the hands of younger women, his workmates mock her by calling her his grandmother, and in the bar he begins to burn their savings away.
As on the first day, Emmi enters the café and asks the server to put the same song on. Ali immediately gets up from the card game, asks her to dance with him, and although she says she can understand him sleeping with younger women, that she sees how old she is every time she looks into the mirror, he tells her she's his one love. He has a fit and has to be rushed to hospital, the doctor says its a perforated stomach ulcer very common in immigrants due to stress, and that he's sure to be back in hospital in six months time. Emmi says, with determination, that he won't.
*The literal meaning of this is 'Fear Eat Soul Up', and the English title is taken from an Arabic expression, the unorthodox German being the way Ali speaks 'pidgeon German', and this style of his talking is reproduced in the sub-titles.