A one-girl revolution
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.