Ethiopian tale is cut to shreds

Los Angeles Times - - Movies -

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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