REVIEW by Willard Manus

Mother Theresa may be dead, but there are still saints among us, one of whom, a Swiss woman named Lotti Latrous, is the subject of a riveting new documentary, EGOISTE, which first screened in L.A. at the 2007 AFI film festival and is now in limited release. Directed by a young German filmmaker, Stephan Anspichler, EGOISTE draws its title from something Latrous said after having walked out on her family to open a hospice in Africa: "I am the biggest egoist of the world."

As the film shows, the decision wasn't an easy one. Latrous had a good marriage, three young children, and a comfortable, upper-middleclass life in Cairo, where her husband Aziz managed a plant for Nestle Co. She knew that her family needed her, particularly nine-year-old Sarah, but the pull to do good in Africa was stronger, overpoweringly so.

Latrous's clinic was called Centre Espoir d'eux--the Centre of Hope for Them--and it was located in one of the slums of Abidjan, the capital of the West African nation, Ivory Coast. Latrous began working with patients suffering from terminal states of AIDS and malnutrition. Although neither doctor nor nurse, she found herself closely ministering to the needs of these desperately ill, poverty-stricken people--literally the blind and the halt.

Working beside a small medical team, she helped to dispense medicine and pain-killers, feed and bathe children and old folks. She also drove an ambulance to collect those too weak or poor to make it to the hospice on their own, managed the institution's books, helped raise money to keep the ship afloat.

Mostly, though, she sat with the dying, caressing and kissing them, singing to them, trying to ease their passage to the other side by filling them with warmth and love. This was her calling, she came to realize. She might have been continually dealing with death, but this enabled her to come to terms with it, lose her fear of it. As a result, she began to experience life more deeply and satisfyingly than ever before. Her heart and soul were filled to the brim.

At the same time, she still felt guilty for having abandoned her family, and shed many a tear because of it. But, as she explains, "I couldn't just let hundreds of children die, destroy thousands of people, just because--it may sound hard now--I have three children at home who have everything. Above all, a father."

Her family is also interviewed in EGOISTE; for the most part Aziz and the children have come to terms with her "egotism." They not only understand that she is following a calling, but are able to take pride in her accomplishments. It helps that in 2004 Switzerland naamed Latrous "Woman of the Year." At the televised ceremony--a glittering, kitschy affair reminiscent of the Oscars--Latrous said something characteristically blunt and honest. To paraphrase her, "Love isn't the answer to Africa's problems. Love doesn't solve anything. Only money does. Money buys food, medicine, factories, schools and jobs. So give, give as much as you can."

EGOISTE brings home the reality of Africa in shocking and unforgettable ways--the poverty, hunger, lack of water and sanitation, unemployment, disease, flies and despair. Not all is doom and gloom, though. One of the film's most memorable characters is Mr. Kaiser, a raffishly-clad ex-pro soccer player who not only teaches the game to hundreds of slum kids but finds uniforms, cleats and food for them, dancing and rapping all the while.

EGOISTE is produced by York Street Productions, a company based in England and Germany. The film's excellent cinematographer is Alban Kakulya, the bouncy African-flavored score is by Arthur Besson & Kay Scheibner.