Dir.: Zeresenay Mehari
Cast: Meron Getnet, Tizita Hagere, Rahel Tehome
Ethiopia/USA 2014, 99 min.
In an Ethiopian village, six men on horse back hunt down, capture and imprison a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl Hirut, capture and imprison her. Her would-be husband then rapes her, claiming that the abduction of a bride is his traditional right. But Hirut escapes, taking the gun of the man who raped her with and shooting him with it, when the men catch up with her. By traditional law she has to be executed, and the local DA does his best to get this sentence passed. But the village elder, to the protest of the majority of the men attending the meeting, rules that Hirut was too young to be married so, in mitigation he orders the girl’s family to pay reparations to the father of the killed man. Whilst the DA is still trying to go for the death sentence, Meaza Asheafi, Co-director of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association, takes on Hirut’s defence, finally challenging the Justice minister for upholding a law that basically allows men to abduct women and use and abuse them.
Based on facts, DIFRET (meaning ‘courage’ as well as ‘rape’ in Amharic, the official language of Ethopia) shows the struggle for basic womens’ rights; Asheafi’s organisation helped more than 30 000 women between 1995 and 2002. But Mehari not only shows the violence of men, but also what the prejudices of so-called traditional values have done to the victims. When Hirut meets the unmarried Asheafi for the first time, she inquires whether she is “a bad woman”. This refers to women who are not virgins at the time of marriage having to live alone, a custom prevalent in many rural areas of Ethopia. Hirut, does not only feel guilty, like many rape victims, but is not convinced that she has really “won” after her trial. She complains, justifiably, that the men in the village will take it out on her little sister, who she can’t protect, since she can’t return to the village. Luckily, the real Hirut is today working to help women victims like herself in Ethopia.
Since the number of 35mm films produced in Ethiopia is still in single figures – DIFRET was a co-production with the USA, Angelina Jolie being one of the executive producers – it would be churlish to be too critical about small details. But the lively camera work is excellent, showing the chasm between life in the countryside and Addis Ababa, the capital. Whilst Tizita Hagere’s Hirut gives a performance full of restraint, Meron Getnet as Asheafi is very convincing in her always-ready-to-fight-anybody attitude. DIFRET is testimony to a struggle so raw that few of us in Europe can really appreciate the terrible plight of its women protagonists. AS
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