Someone wants to know what is happening to them. Although he seems to have everything: a rich parenting house from Swabia, a lot of experienced attention and a job he wanted – a writer in a company after the production of Stuttgart. After all, what is missing from the 31-year-old? A piece of life story. Because he was born in Bolivia.
Adopted as an infant, Manuel came to his new family in Germany through a Bolivian orphanage. He would have died in the orphanage, says his German mother: he did not show any other reactions, he did not scream, he did not cry, he did not move anymore, he just gave up.
He owes a lot to his new family, he says without reservation. However, from an early age everyone saw that he was from Latin America, with his dark skin and black hair. This increased the pressure on him to show that he really belonged and that he could be better than the others. If you showed him photos from Bolivia as a child or young man, he always turned them over immediately, he did not want to have anything to do with them, he could not face them.
This was the case until a few years ago. He had been brought to Bolivia, he was almost dead – why look for his family there when he had one here he could not have wished for better? But now he wonders if it was really that simple or if there is a more complicated story behind it. Now he wants to know where he came from – and begins a journey into the unknown. On this journey, Manuel always looks a bit like a mix of the characters from the fairy tale “Hans im Glück” and “someone who started to learn to be afraid”. His motivation is as strong as it is simple: “I think it is important to know where your roots are.”
For him, cinema and travel are inextricably linked. Because “My foreign country” becomes a refuge for the protected child of Swabia, who treats everyone and everyone openly and without suspicion. It is the means of distance he needs to travel to a foreign country, always wearing his favorite t-shirt as a statement: “No one is illegal.” He knows nothing about Bolivia and does not even speak Spanish. He found three directors for the film in which he is now the protagonist against his will: Marius Brüning, Johannes Preuss and Malte Schumacher. We know each other from our studies at the Ludwigsburg Film Academy.
On his birth certificate his name is José Noé Estrada – and so he finds his mother in a remote mountain village in Bolivia by searching the internet and with the help of two German-speaking assistants on the spot – a shepherd who has never learned to read and write and already had three children. The youth film crew is always a bit like Mark Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad”. You never know if what you are telling them is true or if you are telling them what you think will be an advantage. There are no critical questions, which makes the poetry of this search, but also leaves (too) many unanswered questions.
Then the question of everyone’s identity becomes a puzzle that is difficult to solve. The contrast between the worlds surprises Manuel: How poor can one be in this world? He also came so as not to blame himself for the mother who gave him to him: after all, he was fine. But now he finally wants to take her in his arms, the one he has never seen before, which is foreign to him. The 59-year-old to whom he has been taken looks worn out like an old woman. She claims she was forced to. She already had three children whom she could hardly feed. He still keeps goats, lives in a primitive hut on a piece of land whose enormous size surprises Manuel the Swabian child: “My son, where have you been?” cries – people cry a lot here and we do not really know why.
But Brecht’s question from the “Circle of the Caucasus with Chalk” quickly arises: Who is the real mother, the one who raised him or the one who gave birth to him? But Manuel is not someone who imposes the contradiction of things, he seeks harmony – for him he is just the first and the second mother, the first and the second house. A win-win situation, what else? Then his mother – first or second, as you wish – gives him a pear in her otherwise barren garden and his happiness is perfect.
At some point, the three directors must have said to each other that the sheer joy of reunion and the streams of tears alone are not enough for a feature-length documentary. As a spectator, you also want to know what kind of country Bolivia is, which Manuel declares to be his second home in a few days. And so they play through the idea of what would happen to him here? His distant brothers come into play, with a nearby mine as the only industry. Those who work there, workers say, must always anticipate death. Anyone who sees how dangerous the power lines for the machines open will immediately believe it. Or when the workers say that coca is the most important food for them, no one could do without it here.
Would it be too soft for this harsh country? Manuel seems to be wondering. It is said that. But his goodwill and inclination for harmony are nice. He wants to see and hear how people live here, he wants to participate in people’s lives.
So it almost became the perfect fairy tale. Manuel’s eyes light up with joy for the new family. But then his sister tells him that he has a twin brother who lives in Argentina. An adornment too much? When asked about it, the mother says it is “very private”.
Now, for the first time, something that looks like alienation awakens in Manuel. What is the truth about his past and about Bolivia, he will have to find out for himself next time, better prepared. Slowly he has to go to the past, without which the present would be different and some things would remain hidden from him. His journey to what is to become his homeland, his German-Bolivian double homeland, has just begun.
“My Foreign Country”: Germany 2021, direction and screenplay: Johannes Preuß & Marius Brüning. Starring: Manuel Sosnowski, Diego Gonzalez. Starting: June 23.