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Teza -- Film Review

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Few contemporary films burn with the passion and authenticity of "Teza," Haile Gerima's elaborate drama chronicling three decades in the life of an Ethiopian man anguished by his country's social and political crises. The Ethiopia-born director, responsible for such acclaimed works as "Ashes and Embers" (1982) and "Sankofa" (1993), has produced a challenging but rewarding effort that will be essential viewing for those interested in African themes. Currently playing at New York's Lincoln Plaza Cinema as part of a nationwide tour that recently included a two-month run in Washington, the film recently was the subject of a front-page article in the New York Times.

Complicated and occasionally off-putting in terms of structure and style, "Teza" begins in 1990 when Anberber (newcomer Aaron Arefe, delivering a powerful performance), a doctor, returns to his native village and is reunited with his elderly mother. Suffering from various mental and physical infirmities, including the loss of a leg, Anberber is dismayed to see that his country has been devastated by the oppressive Marxist regime that has come into power.

When tribal elders fear that the new arrival is cursed and begin a ritual to cure him, it cues a series of flashbacks depicting his leaving his country in 1974 to move to Germany and study medicine. There, he and his friends embrace socialism and work from afar to overthrow the dictatorial Emperor Haile Selassie. Returning to his homeland upon the rise of power of Haile Mariam Mengistu in the 1980s, he soon discovers that one form of repression has been replaced by another.

The film ultimately takes on more ideas than it can comfortably handle, resulting in a sprawling but never tedious tour throughout modern Ethiopian history, interspersed with meditations on such subjects as personal responsibility, racism and the relationship of the self-exiled to their native lands.

Handsomely shot despite an obviously low budget and considerable logistical difficulties, "Teza" is a valuable addition to the annals of African cinema.

Venue: Lincoln Plaza Cinema (New York) (Mypheduh Films)
Production: Negod-gwad, Pandora Film
Cast: Aaron Arefe, Abeye Tedla, Takelech Beyene, Teje Tesfahun, Nebiyu Baye, Mengistu Zelalem
Director-screenwriter: Haile Gerima
Producers: Haile Gerima, Karl Baumgartner
Director of photography: Mario Masini
Editors: Haile Gerima, Loren Hankin
Music: Vijay Ijer, Jorga Mesfin
Art directors: Patrick Dechesne, Alain-Pascal Housiaux
Costume designer: Wassine Hailu
No rating, 140 minutes