‘Teza’ revisits Ethiopia under Mengistu at Venice filmfest – VENICE, Italy (AFP)

September 2nd, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Mengistu’s blood-drenched Ethiopia was the backdrop in Venice on Tuesday for filmmaker Haile Gerima’s “Teza,” his attempt to reconcile an idyllic childhood with modern realities.

“I dream my past, but the present is so powerful that it continues to hijack my sentimental journey to my childhood,” Gerima told a news conference.

In the film, Aron Arefe plays Anberber, an idealistic Ethiopian intellectual who studies medicine in Germany, then returns to his home village under Haile Mariam Mengistu’s brutal 1970s-80s regime. (more…)

Mengistu’s blood-drenched Ethiopia was the backdrop in Venice on Tuesday for filmmaker Haile Gerima’s “Teza,” his attempt to reconcile an idyllic childhood with modern realities.

“I dream my past, but the present is so powerful that it continues to hijack my sentimental journey to my childhood,” Gerima told a news conference.

In the film, Aron Arefe plays Anberber, an idealistic Ethiopian intellectual who studies medicine in Germany, then returns to his home village under Haile Mariam Mengistu’s brutal 1970s-80s regime.

Unable to put his expertise to good use, Anberber also faces an identity crisis arising from his “displacement between the village and the modern world,” said Gerima, who won a lifetime achievement award at the Washington Independent Film Festival in 2003.

“Contemporary reality continues to interfere, with silent violence as well as obvious violence,” he added.

A central challenge was harnessing the wealth inherited from generations of oral tradition, Gerima said, calling handed-down stories “our monuments.”

“My grandmother told stories around the fire. My father was a playwright. How do you reconcile that tradition with filmmaking? How is the form culminating my personal identity?” he asked.

“Teza” is one of two African films in the selection of 21 vying for the coveted Golden Lion here, along with “Gabbla” by Algeria’s Tariq Teguia, set in the north African country as it emerged from its civil war of the 1990s.

Also Tuesday, Russian director Aleksei German jr. presented “Paper Soldier,” a recreation of the Soviet effort to put the first man in space in 1961 — Yuri Gagarin — centring on the cosmonaut squad’s chief doctor.

Set mainly in desolate Kazakhstan but far from the high-tech control centre and launchpad, the film shows behind-the-scenes hardships and follies, becoming a parable of Soviet nationalism while unmasking a yearning for a grander past.

“The movie is about the generation of my parents, their idealism, about how the times have dramatically changed,” said Merab Ninidze, who plays the doctor.

“They had their poetry, books, everything connecting them to the past, a paradise kind of lost,” he said.

A third film on Tuesday, “set in no particular time or place,” according to German director Werner Schroeter, shows “the destruction of a society where utopia is not possible.”

The hero, a doctor and potential political leader played by Pascal Greggory, “wants to be honest in a society where you cannot be honest,” Schroeter said.

The action, full of brutality, is in a city being terrorised by a violent militia, opposed by rival factions.

Gilles Taurand, who wrote the screenplay alongside Schroeter drawing from a novel by Uruguayan author Juan Carlos Onetti, said it was a Kafkaesque search “for the meaning of life.”

After more than half the films in competition have been screened ahead of the prize ceremony on Saturday, two have emerged as front-runners in the Italian press, and they are both Japanese.

They are Takeshi Kitano’s whimsical “Achilles and the Tortoise” and Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated children’s fantasy “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.”

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