Teza: A Tale of Idealism and Disillusionment

9/23/2009, 11:40 a.m.

Ethiopian-born filmmaker Haile Gerima€s latest film €Teza€ has swept through the gamut of independent film festival awards, from the coveted top prize at the premier African film festival, FESPACO, and the special jury award at the Venice Film Festival, to top prizes in Carthage and Rotterdam, among others. While €Teza€ is not the quintessential primer on Ethiopian strong man Mengitsu Haile Mariam€s brutal rule, it is a personal tale of the main character€s idealism, loss of innocence and redemption as told through the turmoil of Mengitsu€s regime from 1974 to 1991.

Anberber, played by Aaron Arefe, left Ethiopia to train as a doctor in 1970s€ Germany, witnessing the military overthrow of Ethiopia€s legendary Emperor Haile Selassie, whose 44-year rule left the country impoverished. As an idealistic young student abroad, Anberber and friends Tesfaye, played by Abeye Tedla, and Abdul, plot their roles as socialist activists in the new Ethiopia. Warned by his Afro-German girlfriend Cassandra (Araba Evelyn Johnson-Arthur), Anberber finds that as a Black man, there is no home for him in Germany and his obligation is to redeem his European education by returning to Ethiopia to support the socialist regime.

When he returns, Anberber finds his idealized vision of €Albanian-style socialism,€ as the system is enthusiastically referred to, is in truth a repressive, punitive nightmare that has no space for his dreams. As the horrors unfold, he realizes--along with Tesfaye who returned to Ethiopia earlier, abandoning his German wife and child€"that the projection the young students had visualized had no base in the reality of his homeland.

In a desperate attempt to escape a situation which portrayed him as a traitor to the regime, he tries to return to Germany to deliver bad news to Tesfaye€s wife and his teenage son, only to find that racism has poisoned their lives. As a result, Anberber falls victim to a racist gang of thugs who forever change his life.

€Teza€ is not the perfect film, with its cast of untrained actors and slightly uneven pacing. But, as director Gerima puts it, €perfection is gained through imitation,€ and the intensity of €Teza€ has yet to be rivaled. What it does is convey the disillusion of a utopian society as seen through the naivetee of youth and love of country in one man€s story, beautifully filmed and empathetically scripted through Gerima€s creative lens.

Riveting and rich, €Teza€ has aptly earned the accolades it is now reaping. The film plays at the Avalon Theater through Fri., Oct. 9.