Red Leaves 2

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Director: Bazi Gete

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Red Leaves by Ethiopian-Israeli director Bazi Gete is an interesting study of an Ethiopian-Israeli paternal figure, Meseganio Tadela, who, in the aftermath of his wife’s death, sells off his apartment with the intention of living with each of his children. Herein lies the conflict, in that as much as Tadela wants to maintain his Ethiopian culture and its traditions, he finds them to be constantly challenged by his immigrant family who are already used to living in a modern world with values that prove too far removed from the ones Tadela has been accustomed to.

There is a very engaging flow in the storytelling that effectively captures the viewers’ emotions and convictions. Just take the scene where Tadela gets mad at his daughter for seeing a man amidst an ongoing Sabbath celebration with family, which connotes the incompatibility of the values of these two generations; or the confrontation between Tadela and his daughter-in-law Zehava whom he accuses of cursing him, evoking an elderly man who demands respect and superiority as a father figure.

A later, contrasting highlight is the intense confrontation between Tadela and his adulterous son Moshe, capturing Tadela’s sorrow, shame and disappointment as he witnesses how his values and traditions have diminished while also attempting to show his daughter in law, the wife of Moshe, that he is a fair and just father who doesn’t tolerate a wayward son. Finally, the scene where Tadela goes on a rage and storms out of his son’s house after the revelation that his children want to put him in a home forces him to confront the realization that he has become an “unwanted visitor” and a “useless person” to his own family.

"Eshetu effectively channels a stubborn, at times grumpy character who remains fiercely loyal to his Ethiopian roots."
“Eshetu effectively channels a stubborn, at times grumpy character who remains fiercely loyal to his Ethiopian roots.”

As much as the film evokes a sharp contrast between the old traditions and the new generation of Ethiopian-Israelis, it is also an in-depth character study of Meseganio Tadela, portrayed by Debebe Eshetu, an Ethiopian stage, TV and film actor who received international exposure with 1973’s Shaft in Africa. Eshetu effectively channels a stubborn, at times grumpy character who remains fiercely loyal to his Ethiopian roots. The intensity of his performance has already been lauded by critics domestically as a “tour de force”. Eshetu himself has since said that he frequented bars and clubs within the Bete Israel community to accustom himself to the local lingo and accent. This movie has also proven to be a pick-me-up of sorts for the veteran actor who was detained by the Ethiopian government in the year 2011 on charges of political dissidence and ties to terrorism, with the award-winning feature reconfirming his status as an international film celebrity.

Meanwhile, though the rest of the cast is generally commendable, the two supporting players that really stand out are the intense Meir Dassa as Tadela’s eldest son Baruch, and Solomon Mersha as the outspoken Moshe, who seems to represent a modernized and cultured man, albeit one with a tendency to stray from his marriage.

Many immigrants will easily relate to Gete’s feature, which tackles the wide gap between generations, specifically where it concerns gender roles, traditions, family values and relationships. As Gete himself has said, he felt more Ethiopian than ever when he completed Red Leaves, with the title aptly taken from a William Faulkner short story that “decries white culture as a corrupting influence on traditional values.”

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