Difret movie review: reshaping the world for women

Difret green light

An earnest and passionate film, based on a true story that is enraging yet inspiring, that is essential viewing for anyone concerned with women’s rights.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for stories about girls and women

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Difret is an Amharic word — that’s the language of Ethiopia — that has a double meaning: “to dare” and also “the act of being raped.” Which is a bizarre duality to my Western ears, but difret is here embodied by 14-year-old Hirut Assefa (Tizita Hagere), who is kidnapped on her way home from her small village school to her family’s farm, held prisoner, and raped by a man who intends to make her his wife. Abducting girls for the purpose of forced marriage is all perfectly normal in rural Ethiopia, but Hirut has the unfeminine audacity to fight back, and she shoots her rapist and would-be “husband” dead. (He was dumb enough to leave her alone with his gun. Or perhaps it never occurred to him that she would use it.) Now Hirut is in the hands of the local police, who are waiting for the village elders — all men, of course — to decide her fate, which should, by all local ideas of justice, be her own death. But in steps Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet) of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association of Addis Ababa, many hours away, who is determined to make a case for self-defense… a legal claim that Ethiopia has never before granted to a woman. Based on a real 1996 case, this is an earnest and passionate film — the first feature from Ethiopian writer-director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari — and a deliberately infuriating one: “tradition” is given voice here, but listening to men justify their “right” to kidnap and rape a child because they’re “in love” is disgusting and enraging. (This is no dead tradition, either: forced “marriage” is still going on today.) But there is also inspiration here — Difret has not been a festival-favorite film because it is all grim and hopeless — in the courage of a girl who expects to be able to make her own decisions about her life even as her world tells her she cannot do that, and in the determination of a woman to force her culture to change for the better. This is powerful activist filmmaking that is essential viewing for anyone concerned with women’s rights in a world that often refuses to grant women any rights at all.

Difret is now in limited release in the U.S. Please see the film’s official site for cities and playdates.

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