Dir.: Moges Tafessa; Cast: Zerihun Mulatu, Yimisirach Girma, Tesfaye Yiman, Frehiwot Kelkilew; Ethiopia 2019, 97 min.
This magical morality play is the impressive feature debut of Moges Tafessa who makes the best of a shoestring budget to create a fabulous fable of love, justice and poetry set in 1916.
Enchained tells the story of a gifted young Ethiopian literary student Gobeze (Mulatu) who has dedicated his life to studying the “Sem Ina Werq” riddles (a branch of Ethiopian culture) and to finding his childhood bride Aleme (Girma) who was abducted from his family home seven years previously. It emerges that she has been kidnapped and married off to a judge and landowner Gonite (Yiman). When Gobeze finally does track her down the furious judge finds the two lovers in bed.
This is magic realism at its best. Combining breath-taking landscapes with superb performances piqued by humour and irony, Tasser takes the audience by storm in a tense and moving ethnological drama suffused with passion, jealousy and bitter anger of the traditional Ethiopian establishment.
The enchaining of the title refers to the way Ethiopian social justice is meted out by the local community who insist on Gobeze being tried by Queen Zewditu at her personal court. But Gobeze falls ill and so Gonite is forced to drag him to court on a sheepskin: according to the law the accuser has to bring the accused alive to seek justice, otherwise he stands to forfeit his own life. In a tense court-room showdown, the villagers behave like a Greek chorus, taking sides during the trial. When Gobeze tries to avoid cross-examination by Gonite, he is punished and must receive ten lashes.
But the queen has a great deal of sympathy for Gobeze, is some ways they are very similar, even from different sides of the social spectrum. Her underlings try to rule her, and make her a stand-in queen, to be disposed of at their will. Her passion is not for another person, but for her role as a woman in a men’s world. Tafessa weaves the two narrative strands together, creating a very rich feature drama that melds traditional and modern, fairy tale and social realism in a wonderful, unique experience. AS
SCREENING AT RICHMIX ON 19 and 23 OCTOBER 2019