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Venice Film Festival, In Competition
VENICE — An idealistic doctor returns from years in Western Europe to help his African nation fight poverty and hunger and is caught between a criminal military regime and an implacable resistance movement in Haile Gerima’s film “Teza.”
Filled with scenes of village life in Ethiopia as recalled and witnessed anew by the ex-patriot Anberber (Aaron Arefe), the colorful and imposing film tracks back and forth between his childhood, his years in Germany and his return. Handsomely produced and illuminating in its depiction of tribal life, African politics and European racism, “Teza” should travel widely beyond festivals and art houses.
Writer-director Gerima, who is from Ethiopia and whose best-known film is “Sankofa” (1993), infuses the story of the intellectual’s return with his own experiences. Anberber is first seen as an older defeated man, having returned to his mother’s village in retreat from the perils of the country’s civil strife.
Staying apart from village life, Anberber dwells in memories from childhood and the hopes that led him to go to Germany to study medicine. There, in flashbacks, he becomes involved with ex-patriot socialists and takes part in campaigns to raise awareness of the plight of his countrymen at home.
His brother, Tesfaye (Abeye Tedla) has built a life in Germany but he abandons his German wife and child to go back to help the struggle in Ethiopia. When Anberber follows him, he finds that he cannot remain quiet in the face of all the brutal corruption.
The knowledge of his futile resistance haunts Anberber as he watches armed men from both sides of the country’s conflict come to carry off the village’s young boys to fight in their war. Flight results in death so the youngsters hide in nearby caves, emerging at great risk only to help their families with subsistence farm work.
The film follows Anberber as he slowly realizes that, once again, he is obliged to become involved. Only the film’s slow pace softens its powerful message but trimming some of its 140 minutes would solve that problem. Its important point would become more emphatic and its haunting scenes of beauty and barbarism would grow even more insistent.
Production companies: Negod-gwad Production, Pandora Film Produktion. Cast: Aaron Arefe, Abeye Telda, Takelech Beyene, Teje Tesfahun. Director, screenwriter, producer, editor: Haile Gerima. Producer: Karl Baumgartner. Director of photography: Mario Masini. Production designers: Patrick Dechesne, Alain-Pascal Housiaux, Seym Ayana. Music: Vijay Iver & Jorga Mesfin
Costume designer: Wassine Hailu. Editor: Loren Hankin. Sales agent: Match Factory. Not rated, 140 minutes.
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