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Review: 'Teza' gives a woefully unclear look at Ethiopia

September 24, 2010|By Michael Ordoña

Haile Gerima's "Teza" throws you in the deep end and cares little if you swim. The scope of its events is epic; its perception epically narrow. It's a fragmented view of about 20 years of extremely turbulent times in Ethiopia, as seen through the eyes of a seemingly anhedonic intellectual who spends much of the film out of the country.

For Americans who have paid little attention to the terrible undulations of power and seemingly endless civil war in countries such as Ethiopia, much of the strife in the film will be only vaguely understood: Marxist idealists abroad celebrate the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, only to find the brave new world to be full of chaos and brutality. Senseless violence seems to follow protagonist Anberber (Aaron Arefe), who with his best friend, Tesfaye (Abiye Tedla), dreams of curing many diseases that plague his nation. He finds instead menace and murder in the new Ethiopia, in his onetime haven of Germany and even in his childhood village.

Much of this is told in jagged flashbacks, but it's unclear what Anberber knows in the present and what he's coming to remember; therefore his journey is undefined. This murkiness is not helped by Arefe's largely opaque performance. The film occasionally captures arresting images, and its strongest suit is Vijay Iyer and Jorga Mesfin's haunting, saxophone-tinged score. But the herky-jerky quality of the experience, exacerbated by writer-director Gerima's restless editing, makes Anberber's story difficult to follow.

— Michael Ordoña

"Teza." MPAA rating: Unrated. In Amharic and German with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. Playing Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.

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