Balancing tragedy with cultural context, Difret captures a society in flux.
Dramatizing a real incident, the movie follows fourteen-year-old Hirut Assefa (Tizita Hagere), who on her way home from school one afternoon was kidnapped and raped by a man seeking to become her husband. During her desperate escape, she shot and killed the man. In return, her village demanded her death. Determined women’s-rights lawyer Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet) takes up Hirut’s case to argue for the girl’s innocence.
It’s the kind of heartbreaking international story you might expect from Angelina Jolie Pitt, who serves as an executive producer. But Difret is above wrenching your heartstrings for sympathy. Its small-scale focus on the relationship between Meaza and Hirut makes it an engrossing drama without having to resort to showing the traumatizing violence that takes place in the first fifteen minutes. The young leading actresses, Getnet and Hagere, imbue their characters with admirable strength in the face of seemingly unending adversity.
Playing out in the metropolis of Addis Ababa and the rural lands beyond its city lights, Difret is only mildly interrupted by abrupt fades, and its limitations don’t derail the story. The two lead characters must assert themselves against misogynist cultural norms and Hammurabi’s Code–style law to defend a child’s right to live. Difret is painful but profound, skirting the pitfalls of the inspirational biopic for something more grounded and remarkable. Its authenticity extends beyond its central characters, conveying a very real sense of what is at stake.
Directed by Zeresenay Mehari
Truth Aid Media
Opens October 23, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 20, 2015