Produced by Angelina Jolie and directed by Zeresanay Mehari, Difret empowering dramatic film from Ethiopia won the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance 2014.
Three hours outside of Addis Ababa, a bright 14-year-old girl is on her way home from school when men on horses swoop in and kidnap her. The brave Hirut (Tizita Hagere) grabs a rifle and tries to escape, but ends up shooting her would-be husband. In her village, the practice of abduction into marriage is common and one of Ethiopia’s oldest traditions.
Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet), an empowered and tenacious young lawyer, arrives from the city to represent Hirut and argue that she acted in self-defense. Meaza boldly embarks on a collision course between enforcing civil authority and abiding by customary law, risking the ongoing work of her women’s legal-aid practice to save Hirut’s life.
Based on a real-life story, this film goes beneath the layer of polite social customs to explore an aggressively rooted patriarchy that perpetuates inhospitable conditions for women in Ethiopia and portrays the complexity of a country’s transformation toward equal rights, featuring the courageous generation that dares to own it.
The film due to the strong subject matter may have wavered through the conviction of the oppressive state of gender politics in Africa. However, thanks to the two amazing central performances by Hagere and Gernat, the film not only is a brilliant portrayal of women in Africa but also one with a powerful statement and comment to make.
Due to the influence of Jolie perhaps, the film has a real sheen and look that you would not commonly associate with African productions due to the technological restrictions sometimes placed upon them. However, the evolution of digital technology means there is no such restriction in the production quality with frequent dollies and moving camerawork placing us in the shoes of the character, as opposed to merely observing the action as a bystander or casual observer. It follows in the footsteps of such work as Life, Above All a South African film that again told the story of a young woman in a harsh world.
The need to make a comment in this world of inequality and the boundaries of rules and law breaking are expressly portrayed with clarity, precision and level headedness from the male director Mehari, who looks like a director to watch out for in years to come.
The film is a triumph and a convincing piece of work that deserves a larger audience not just for the message but that world cinema can supply acting to match that of western powerhouses.
Difret is released from Soda Pictures on Friday 6th March.