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Originally published Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'Teza': Ethiopia's tortured history, as seen through a disillusioned man's eyes

"Teza" is a remarkable portrait of the tortured political and social history of late-20th-century Ethiopia, as captured through the eyes of a disillusioned man who journeys through elation and devastation in his search for a personal ideological truth.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Teza,' with Aaron Arefe, Abeye Tedla, Takelech Beyene, Teje Tesfahun, Nebiyu Baye. Written and directed by Haile Gerima. 140 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences. Columbia City Cinemas.

Both intimate and sprawling in its scope and reach, "Teza" is a remarkable portrait of the tortured political and social history that Ethiopia suffered in the last decades of the 20th century.

Waves of torment and pride that gripped the country are vividly captured through the eyes of a man named Anberber (a haunting Aaron Arefe), who is subjected to extremes of elation and devastation. His journey of disillusionment is the very personal exploration of a national psyche as interpreted by filmmaker Haile Gerima.

Remaining very much a cipher in the first few reels, a graying, defeated Anberber has returned to his rural village with scars both physical and psychological. His confusion is ours, but the sorting out begins as he flashes back nearly two decades to his jubilant time as a medical student in Cologne, Germany. As an idealistic socialist, he and his fellow expatriates rejoice when a Soviet-backed military junta overthrows the monarchy of Haile Selassie.

But the grand utopia Anberber and his intellectual countrymen dreamed of has little bearing on reality back in Addis Ababa, where his frustration grows under the increasing brutality of the communist regime. Eager to focus on his career as a research physician, Anberber cannot escape the oppressive contradictions of a society where banners of an unwanted emperor (Selassie) have been replaced by alien ideologues (Marx and Lenin).

Though he struggles to maintain his principles, resistance is futile in the face of a new corruption and the constant threat of violence. Once again expatriated to Germany, this time in the service of the communist East, Anberber faces constant racism and the horror of actual violence. With his mind and philosophy skewed, his search for truth and simplicity guide him back to his impoverished boyhood home.

Though sometimes disjointed and fraught with overly impressionistic flourishes, "Teza" is an impressive undertaking that balances melodrama with realism in depicting the inner life of a complicated character and the historical tenor of a little-known time and place in the world.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

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