A one-girl revo­lu­tion

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

DIFRET Di­rected by Zere­se­nay Ber­hane Me­hari. Star­ring Meron Get­net, Tizita Hagere. Club, IFI mem­bers, 99mins Difret is an im­por­tant film deal­ing with an im­por­tant theme: im­por­tant enough, in­deed, for An­gelina Jolie to have joined the film, post­pro­duc­tion, as an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and celebrity pre­sen­ter. Don’t be de­terred by the grav­i­tas.

It comes as some­thing as a sur­prise that the same wor­thy film rat­tles along with the at­trac­tive beats of an old-school thriller. Based on a real-life court­room drama, Difret con­cerns a young Ethiopian girl who chal­lenges the tra­di­tion of “telefa,” the prac­tice of ab­duc­tion for mar­riage.

Four­teen-year-old school­girl Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is skip­ping home from school when a gang of ban­dits on horses kid­nap the young­ster. She is soon beaten and raped but, when she shoots her at­tacker in self-de­fence, a death sen­tence seems in­evitable. En­ter Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Get­net), a right­eous cru­sad­ing co-founder of a non-profit char­ity in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia, that of­fers free legal coun­sel for women. Meaza is ac­cus­tomed to clients who say dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing things like “I went to some fam­ily mem­bers and they said ‘he hits you be­cause he loves you’ ,” but Hirut’s case will re­quire tak­ing on ghastly tribal tra­di­tion and the min­istry of jus­tice.

It’s a big ask for a trou­bled lit­tle girl and her plucky lawyer.

Zere­se­nay Ber­hane Me­harii’s de­but fea­ture is gram­mat­i­cally im­per­fect. Scenes (no­tably, a sig­nif­i­cant car chase) some­times ap­pear to cut out just as they’re get­ting warmed up, only for the rel­e­vant out­come to be re­vealed, later, in clunky ex­po­si­tion. Cer­tain mi­nor char­ac­ters might have been axed al­to­gether. Oth­ers don’t get nearly enough air time.

For all that, and in spite of the har­row­ing sub­ject mat­ter, Difret is never less than en­ter­tain­ing. Get­net and Hagere make for charis­matic lead­ing ladies. The land­scape is as pretty as the gen­der bal­ance is ugly. And the court­room show­down makes for a nail­bit­ing fi­nale.

This is the first Ethiopian film to get a the­atri­cal re­lease in Ire­land. Do try to get along so that it won’t be the last.

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