Covid-19 | Apr 25,2020
Residue is the spiritual sequel to the acclaimed Teza. The latter is a movie by Ethiopia’s single most acclaimed filmmaker, Haile Gerima, while Residue is the directorial debut of his son, Merawi. Clearly, filmmaking genuis runs in the family, writes Christian Tesfaye, giving the movie 9 out of 10 stars.
Dropped on Netflix late last week without much fanfare, Residue is the spiritual sequel to the acclaimed Teza, a film that came out over a decade ago.
True, one is set in Washington, DC, and the other is set in Ethiopia. One takes place in the contemporary US, the other is about the Dergue’s Ethiopia during the heady years of the 1970s.
But wait. Circumstances may be bounded by place and time, but human experience is often very similar. The same goes for the protagonists of the two movies, Residue and Teza. They are both about a man that returns to his place of birth in an attempt to find meaning. What they find in return is tinged with disappointment, the accusing response of kin and friends that resent them for leaving and the realisation that once dislocated, it is impossible to put the pieces back together.
The only glaring thematic difference is that Teza ends on a note of optimism, the beginning of a new dawn, while Residue remains gloomy throughout. For the latter, solace is found only in the nostalgia of lost childhood innocence.
These similarities might not be coincidental. After all, Teza is a movie by Ethiopia’s single most acclaimed filmmaker, Haile Gerima. Residue is the directorial debut of his son, Merawi. Clearly, a knack for non-chronological storytelling, introspective dialogues, eccentric but stunning camera angles, warm colour composition and thorough development of emotionally traumatised characters runs in the family.
But enough about the father. He has had his limelight, at least in art-house circles. Let us talk Residue, a film that attempts to understand the "ghetto," the lives therein, and how gentrification disengages and dislocates those for whom the ghetto was home. Brilliantly encapsulating the theme of the movie is a scene earlier in the movie.
It takes place on the lawn of the protagonist’s – Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu) – parents, where he is staying after coming from California. A White couple – a man and a woman - are standing and talking, and their puppy is about to go to the toilet on the lawn.
“Hell no!” Jay’s mom comes out yelling. “Get off my lawn. Shoo.”
“I was going to clean it up,” says the woman. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Clean it up?” retorts Jay’s mom. “When you clean the poop up, it still leaves residue.”
Exactly. A poor neighbourhood in DC or Addis Abeba, may be an eyesore. An army of city planners, investors and urban developers could be sent equipped with bulldozers and capital for several restaurant franchises to clean it up. But the ghetto still leaves residue, often in the form of dejected residents and broken social scenes.
Jay returns to the neighbourhood, Q Street, he grew up in to develop a script for a movie he plans to make. But he has a hard time recognising it anymore. He searches for his friends, some of whom are in prison. Others are locked up, and yet others seem to be in limbo between these two states.
He attempts to make sense of it all but what he finds is at best indifference. His parents are tired and desperately trying to fend off interested buyers of their property. The new white neighbours are utterly clueless about the sense of loss of community that attends gentrification.
His old friends from childhood are merely trying to stay out of prison and cognisant of the economic and security status quo being built around them. At least in the past, they only had to contend with the police, because they were perceived as criminals. Now, their lack of value as economic agents with tiny disposable incomes means that the development of the neighbourhood depends on removing them altogether. First, it was not their America. Now, it is not even their neighbourhood.
“These white folks goin’ paint over the city like we never existed,” Jay tells one of his childhood friends. “Pave right over us.”
To the friend, who has lived there all of his life, this is not news. He has accepted reality. He is not waiting for salvation, especially not from Jay, whom he accuses of having left, of “not caring.” It is a fait accompli.
What else is left for them to do than be angry at the sheer unfairness of it all?
Anberber, Teza’s protagonist, chose to hope for a better day, despite living in one of the poorest places on earth and under one of the cruelest dictatorships to have ever come to power. Jay shades what little optimism he brings with him from California as hoped to give voice to the voiceless by telling the story of Q Street. He no longer sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
This speaks volumes about our time and the millennial generation.
PUBLISHED ON Sep 19,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1064]
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