Moving Ethiopian drama focusing on the fight for a young girl's freedom
There are a lot of good films being made in Africa and we rarely get to see any of them outside of festivals, so Ethiopian filmmaker Zeresenay Mehari’s eye-opening social justice drama, based on a groundbreaking true story, deserves an audience.
14-year-old Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is on her way home from school when she is run down by men on horseback, abducted, beaten and raped. Her chief tormentor crows that she is now his 'bride' but, as she makes her escape, Hirut grabs his gun and, when cornered, shoots him. And although her poor farmer father had previously rejected her 'suitor', because of Hirut’s youth and desire for an education, much of the community is united in wanting her executed.
Enter a women’s rights advocate, Meaza (Meron Getnet), the smart, confident and determined head of a non-profit women’s law association who spearheads the fight for justice (and media coverage) for Hirut. The custom of abducting child brides is so ingrained in many parts of Africa that men in the justice system seem loath to bow to modern sensibilities and oppose it, so Meaza and her child client are assailed on all sides in incidents ranging from pettily vindictive political ploys, to life-threateningly violent attacks. It's not really spoiling anything to say it’s pretty clear they are going to make legal history.
Cinematically, the film is a mixed bag. There are some lovely shots of rural Ethiopia and neat montage sequences that show different characters doing what they are doing at the same moment. It’s also unpolished and at times clunky. But it is full of human interest, touching detail (the gracious hospitality of impoverished farmers, Hirut’s bewilderment at the city and modern conveniences) and quite involving. The title Difret, by the way, is an Amharic word that can mean ‘to dare’, ‘the act of being raped’, or ‘insolent audacity’, so it neatly covers the bases.
Selected release from Fri 6 Mar.