Otomo

Shortly after 9 am on August 9, 1989, a West African immigrant named Frederic Otomo and two West German police officers died on a Stuttgart overpass, during what should have been a routine arrest. After a tense confrontation, Otomo attacked and stabbed five officers with a bayonet blade before being shot to death. Otomo, a political refugee from Cameroon,...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Shortly after 9 am on August 9, 1989, a West African immigrant named Frederic Otomo and two West German police officers died on a Stuttgart overpass, during what should have been a routine arrest. After a tense confrontation, Otomo attacked and stabbed five officers with a bayonet blade before being shot to death. Otomo, a political refugee from Cameroon, was wanted by police in connection with a minor altercation on a tram three hours earlier; a ticket conductor claimed Otomo's ticket was no longer valid, but Otomo refused to exit the train. A scuffle broke out, and Otomo allegedly assaulted the inspector before fleeing. Very little is known about what actually transpired during the hours between the assault and Otomo's death on the Gaisburger Bridge. But for filmmaker Frieder Schlaich and many other Germans, the entire incident — and the media-fueled, anti-immigrant outrage that followed — were emblematic of Germany's dangerously intolerant attitude towards its immigrant population. Much of this powerful film, which follows Otomo (played with a smoldering combination of pride and deep-seated resentment by Isaach de Bankolé) on that fateful summer morning, is fiction. Schlaich recreates what he knows happened with fidelity to the facts, then fills in the blanks with intriguing speculation. He imagines Otomo on a predawn visit to a day-labor center where's he's denied the lowliest jobs because of his refugee status, and Otomo's desperate attempt to flee the country with a trucker. He even allows a friendship of sorts to develop with a sympathetic hippie (New German Cinema favorite Eva Mattes) whom Otomo asks for help. Schlaich's search for an explanation isn't an attempt to excuse Otomo's crime, but to imagine the circumstances that could have driven him to such a violent end: the isolation, the day-to-day humiliation, the racist remarks, the fearful, contemptuous German faces. The film unfolds like a thriller: The plot moves so inexorably toward its tragic conclusion you can almost hear the clock ticking. But while the taut structure generates considerable suspense, it doesn't leave much room for important background material: Schliach relies heavily on the somewhat perfunctory investigation of an ambitious German policeman (Hanno Friedrich) and his rapping partner (Barnaby Metschurat) — both fictitious — to provide details.

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  • Released: 1999
  • Review: Shortly after 9 am on August 9, 1989, a West African immigrant named Frederic Otomo and two West German police officers died on a Stuttgart overpass, during what should have been a routine arrest. After a tense confrontation, Otomo attacked and stabbed fiv… (more)

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