Spanning two decades of his nation's fraught history and invoking the legacy of at least three more, Haile Gerima's Teza confronts the paradoxical position of a certain generation of Ethiopian intellectual, which includes both the director and his lead character. Arriving back at his native village in 1990, after nearly 20 years of exile in Germany and Addis Ababa, Anberber (Aaron Arefe) finds his memory of the past wiped clean. But after a dizzying overture whose fevered mixture of nightmare and gauzy remembrance mirrors Anberber's fractured mental state, a Proustian splash of water abruptly rewinds the film to the early '70s. Moving from Anberber's days as an idealistic socialist in Cologne through his growing awareness of the horrors of Mengistu's government in the '80s to the upheavals of 1990, Teza asks, in the face of the intractable forces of history, what relationship can an activist-minded citizen hope to maintain with his country? While occasionally weakened by some impressionistic flourishes that the director isn't quite imaginative enough to pull off, Gerima's film stands as a richly expansive portrait of a man caught between an untenable exile and the terrible consequences of his homeland's violent past.
Runs at Columbia City Cinema, Fri., April 30–Thurs., May 13. Not rated. 140 minutes.