The Diplomatic Courier (http://www.diplomaticourier.com/difret/) explains the double meaning of the Amharic word “difret,” and hence the title. Based on actual events in the life of Aberash Bekele, who according to a Newsweek interview was never informed that her story was being made into a movie (http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/16/rape-victim-who-fought-back-and-shamed-nation-297757.html), Difret is the fictionalized account of Hirut (Tizita Hagere), an adolescent in Ethiopia whose kidnapping for a forced marriage in 1996 ended in a landmark legal decision. Walking home from school in a remote village, she is surrounded by a group of men on horses, kidnapped, raped, and held captive in a hut. Her rapist tells her that he abducted her to marry her, a tradition in these parts of the world. When she escapes with his rifle, the men chase her into a forest and she shoots her attacker dead when he ignores her warnings to back off. Enter attorney and female rights activist Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet), who takes the case and argues that Hirut acted in self-defense, ultimately placing her law practice, her livelihood, and her reputation in jeopardy.
Difret, to which Angelina Jolie attached her name as executive producer, is compelling but (probably not surprising) often difficult to watch. The sexism is not just rampant, it’s downright barbaric. Hirut is vilified: she’s treated like shit in police custody, no one will testify for her, and all the village men want her dead. She doesn’t understand how Ashenafi can live happily, not to mention respectably, as a single woman. Ashenafi encounters her own obstacles and resistance from the male authority figures- to a degree even from her mentor, an educated and seemingly progressive retired attorney.
Aside from the main issues it deals with, Difret demonstrates that change, for better or for worse, hurts. Zeresenay Mehari, who directed and wrote the script, maintains objectivity for the most part; he’s respectful to both sides, and he doesn’t hit you over the head with his moral stance. He does a nice job showing the tensions that develop when tradition gets in the way of social progress. Intentionally or not, he also shows the crucial role that the legal process and a ballsy attorney play in bringing about change. Mehari is efficient in giving us just what we need to know to follow along. As a result of his efficiency, however, his characters and the story as a whole lose a sense of dimension; both are superficial in the same way a TV crime drama is. Still, Difret is worth seeing.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-