A film sets out to make you feel something: some want you to feel happy, others want to make you cry. Difret wants to make you angry and, boy, does it do that.
et in Ethiopia in 1996, Difret is based on a true story that sees a fourteen-year-old Hirut (Hegere) make her way home from school only to be abducted by a group of horse-riding, rifle-wielding locals. Beaten and raped, she escapes her tormentors, shooting one of them as she is cornered in a brush. Arrested, Hirut is set to be sentenced to death when lawyer Meaza Ashenafi (Getnet) steps in claiming she shot her assailant in self-defence, and sets about bringing the first case of such to the court…
his peek inside the social sphere of Ethiopia is at times shocking. The ‘telefa, the abduction, beating and raping of girls, is tradition, an accepted way of acquiring a wife. This is the DA’s (a wonderfully slimy Shegeraw) stance: the rapist had already approached Hirut’s father with a proposal of marriage only to be rebuked on account of her age and her ambition to attend school in the capital. This doesn’t wash, and he sets about taking what he believes is his by right. The shock in the villages comes from the temerity of a female to defend herself.
ut Difret doesn’t stop there. Corruption and an archaic male-dominated judicial system stand in Meaza’s way, who has to jump through several hoops just to take Hirut from the police station to the hospital with a suspected broken arm. Throughout Meaza has to put up with sexist remarks and disparaging looks for having ambition and not being married despite being in her thirties. Then there’s the difference between state law and tribal law, where a group of elders pass judgement on Hirut regardless of the decision of the courts. Yes, the film will make you gnash your teeth in frustration and rage.
aw and punchy, and sometimes belying its obvious budgetary constraints, Difret unfortunately undoes some of the good work with its clunky and one note characters: Men = bad, women = good. The performances – some by amateurs – can be a little, well, amateurish, and director Zeresenay Mehrai makes some questionable decisions, like fading to black in the middle of a potentially engaging chase sequence.
ut Difret works at a gut level.