OTTAWA’S CINEMA FOR INTERNATIONAL AND INDEPENDENT MOVIES

Difret

Winner – Panorama Audience Award – 2014 Berlinale

The compelling Difret is a small film with a lot on its mind. Authentic and affecting, this drama about fighting against the Ethiopian tradition of abducting young girls into marriage is potent enough to be that country’s official Academy Award submission and gain the support of Angelina Jolie as an executive producer.

Poster art for DifretBased on an actual incendiary legal case, Difret not only deals with an abhorrent practice that is still going on, it provides a dramatic yet nuanced window into a culture we almost never see. As director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari has said, ‘If there is a villain in my film,’ he said, ‘it’s not a person, it’s the tradition.’

The director’s ability to encapsulate multiple viewpoints is critical for presenting the different strata of a country of multiple divides, not only between the traditions of rural life and the mores of the modern metropolis of Addis Ababa but also the differing attitudes toward women and justice that exist even among the country’s educated elite.

Before any abduction takes place, Difret introduces its central character, attorney Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet), a confident woman who heads an organization in Addis called the Adinet Women’s Lawyers Association, which successfully advocates for the rights of women and children.

Meanwhile, in a village three hours from the capital, a 14-year-old girl named Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is walking home alone from school. Suddenly, several mounted horsemen appear, literally swoop Hirut off the ground and, after congratulating one another, imprison her in a hut. There, one of the group sexually assaults her and then announces happily, ‘You will soon be my wife.’

This tradition of abduction into marriage has been widespread in rural Ethiopia, but Hirut has other ideas. Gaining control of the man’s weapon, she shoots and kills her kidnapper. His friends attempt to kill her on the spot, but though the local constabulary intervenes and imprisons her, the general consensus in the area, as one policeman says, is that ‘she is going to pay with her life.’

Meaza hears about the case and attempts to help the girl, but nothing about this situation proves to be simple. For one thing, the police and local assistant district attorney are hostile to Hirut. Other complications arise from the girl’s family, subsistence farmers who don’t even know what a lawyer is and worry about the possibility of a ruinous feud with the dead man’s family.

Also complex is the personality of Hirut, who turns out to be a young person with strong and definite ideas of her own that do not always jibe with the lawyer’s.

Though the outcome of this case helped change the law in Ethiopia, the reality on the ground still has not been transformed in all areas, and that is what filmmaker Mehari hopes will happen when Difret eventually screens in Ethiopia.

– Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times

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