El Hedi ben Salem

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El Hedi ben Salem
Born El Hedi ben Salem m'Barek Mohammed Mustafa
c. 1935
Died 1977 (aged 42–43)
Nîmes, France
Cause of death Suicide by hanging
Other names Salem El Hedi
Salem El Heïdi
El Hedi Ben Salem
Elhedi Ben Salem
Years active 1971–1975
Children 5

El Hedi ben Salem (c. 1935[1] – 1977) was a Moroccan actor best known for his work with German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Early life and career[edit]

Salem was born El Hedi ben Salem m'Barek Mohammed Mustafa in a small village in Morocco, the child of a Berber family. At the age of 15, he married and eventually had five children. Salem, his wife and children lived near the Atlas Mountains.[2][3] By the early 1970s, Salem had left his wife and children and moved to Europe.[3]

He met director Rainer Werner Fassbinder at a gay bathhouse in Paris in early 1971 and the two began a relationship.[4] He moved to Germany with Fassbinder and became a part of director's entourage. He would go on play several minor roles in Fassbinder's films. Fassbinder eventually cast Salem in the lead role in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), a film that explores racism in post-World War II Germany. In the film, Salem portrays a Moroccan immigrant living in Germany who begins a relationship with an older German woman whom he eventually marries.[5] The film brought Fassbinder worldwide critical acclaim and the role of "Ali" became Salem's best known role.[3][6]

While Salem and Fassbinder were living together in Germany, Salem brought his two sons to live with them. This arrangement did not last long as the children were unprepared for life in a different culture and Salem and Fassbinder were not up to the task of raising children.[3] Both frequently drank and took drugs and left the children with others.[3][7] One of Salem's sons returned to his mother in Morocco while the other went to different homes and finally, a reformatory.[3] Salem and Fassbinder's relationship was reportedly tumultuous. They fought frequently due in part to Salem's short temper which turned violent when he drank. In 1974, Fassbinder broke off the relationship due to Salem's violence and drinking.[4] After the breakup, Salem began drinking more heavily. Director Daniel Schmid, one of Fassbinder's close friends, later told Roger Ebert that shortly after the break up, Salem got drunk and "... went to a place in Berlin and stabbed three people."[8] Salem then returned to Fassbinder and told him, "You don't have to be afraid anymore."[9]


After the stabbings (none of which was fatal), Salem fled to France aided by Fassbinder and his friends.[10] Schmid later recalled that Salem had to be "virtually smuggled out of Germany" and that Fassbinder cried the entire time they were driving Salem out of Berlin.[1]

While in France, Salem was arrested and jailed. While in custody at a prison in Nîmes in 1977, Salem hanged himself.[8][11][12][13][14][15] News of Salem's death was kept from Fassbinder for years. He did not learn of his former lover's death until shortly before his own death in 1982.[10] Fassbinder dedicated his last film, Querelle (1982), to Salem.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2012, a documentary on Salem's life entitled My Name Is Not Ali, premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival. The film was directed by German filmmaker Viola Shafik.[7]


Year Title Role Notes
1971 The Merchant of Four Seasons The Arab Credited as Salem El Heïdi
German title: Händler der vier Jahreszeiten
1972 The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
Credited as Salem El Hedi
German title: Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant
1973 Jail Bait (de) Franz's friend Television movie
German title: Wildwechsel
1973 Eight Hours are Not a Day Arbeitskollege Miniseries
German title: Acht Stunden sind kein Tag
1973 Tenderness of Wolves Französischer Soldat Set decorator and props
German title: Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe
1973 World on a Wire Castro Miniseries
German title: Welt am Draht
1974 Ali: Fear Eats the Soul Ali German title: Angst essen Seele auf
1974 Martha Hotel guest Television movie
1975 Like a Bird on a Wire Bodybuilder German title: Wie ein Vogel auf dem Draht
1975 Fox and His Friends Salem the Moroccan Uncredited
German title: Faustrecht der Freiheit


  1. ^ a b Lorenz, Juliane; Schmid, Marion; Gehr, Herbert, eds. (1999). Chaos as Usual: Conversations about Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 5. ISBN 1-55783-359-1. 
  2. ^ Katz, Robert (1987). Love Is Colder Than Death: The Life and Times of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Random House. p. 65. ISBN 0-394-53456-5. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Harvey, Dennis (3 September 2012). "My Name Is Not Ali". variety.com. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Watson, Wallace Steadman (1996). Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Film as Private and Public Art. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 94. ISBN 1-57003-079-0. 
  5. ^ Finke, Michael C.; Niekerk, Carl, eds. (2000). One Hundred Years of Masochism: Literary Texts, Social and Cultural Contexts. 10. Rodopi. p. 191. ISBN 90-420-0657-9. 
  6. ^ Eagan, Daniel (9 December 2011). "Determining Who Made the Most Movies". smithsonianmag.com. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  7. ^ a b DeFore, John (29 August 2012). "My Name Is Not Ali (Jannat' Ali): Film Review". hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (2003). The Great Movies. Broadway Books. p. 26. ISBN 0-7679-1038-9. 
  9. ^ Abramovich, Alex (22 June 2003). "FILM/DVD'S; Further From Heaven". nytimes.com. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Cappello, Mary (2007). Awkward: A Detour. Bellevue Literary Press. p. 102. ISBN 1-934137-01-4. 
  11. ^ Scott, Jay (1987). Midnight Matinees: Movies and Their Makers, 1975–1985. Frederick Ungar Publishing Company. p. 49. ISBN 0-8044-6848-6. 
  12. ^ a b Watson 1996 p. 107
  13. ^ "The bitter tears of Fassbinder's women". theguardian.com. 8 January 1999. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  14. ^ Peucker, Brigitte, ed. (2012). A Companion to Rainer Werner Fassbinder. John Wiley & Sons. p. 579. ISBN 1-4051-9163-5. 
  15. ^ Mayne, Judith (2002). Cinema and Spectatorship. Routledge. p. 169. ISBN 1-134-96688-1. 

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