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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Directed by Frieder Schlaich
Facets Multi-Media, Inc. 11/01 DVD/VHS Feature Film
One of the most virulent forms of prejudice is xenophobia, the anxiety and bigoted behavior aroused by strangers and the strange by anything different from ourselves. The "other," because of skin color, language, dress, or religious belief, is seen as a threat. Because of this prevalent attitude, many strangers in society live in a kind of prison, one built by prejudice.
Otomo is a riveting German film directed by Frieder Schlaich. It is loosely based on a well-publicized 1989 incident in Stuttgart where a West African immigrant stabbed two policemen to death when they tried to apprehend him for a previous altercation on a train. Otomo presents a fictionalized reconstruction of the last day of this African's life.
Otomo (Isaach de Bankole) arises early in the morning to cast stones, do some pushups, and pack his bags. It is his birthday but no one is there to celebrate with him. He stands on line for some menial work but is denied on account of his inadequate papers. Racist remarks are directed his way, especially ridiculing his scuffed shoes. On the train, a bigoted ticket collector harasses him. After punching this official, Otomo flees from the train, leaving behind his backpack containing some soil from his homeland. A bulletin is put out for him by the police. Two young cops eager for promotion are determined to apprehend him.
The hotel manager tells them that Otomo has been in Germany for eight years and that his rent was paid by a Catholic charity organization. The ill-fated African stops at a church to pray while a young minister is preaching a sermon about the small gestures that can make a difference "A gentle word can save a life." But all that Otomo receives in church is a cold stare from a woman while he kneels in front of a portrait of the crucified Jesus.
The only one to reach out to this immigrant is a little girl who gives him a flower while he sits in dejection by the river. Her grandmother (Eva Mattes) is sympathetic to his down-and-out plight. She takes him to her daughter's apartment and eventually gives him the money he needs to pay a trucker to take him to Amsterdam. For one brief moment, Otomo connects with another human being telling her that this is the first time in eight years he's ever seen the inside of anyone's home in Germany. He shares with her his dream of becoming a helicopter pilot.
Otomo draws our attention to the dehumanized treatment of refugees in Germany and elsewhere where they are viewed as "vermin." Hostility instead of hospitality greats outsiders in many large cities. Hopefully this morally provocative German film will eventually be released in video so that many human rights activists can see it.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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