The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Difret</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Difret

True story of an incident that led to the outlawing of child bride abductions in Ethiopia.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Zeresenay Mehari

Starring: Meron Getnet, Tizita Hagere, Rahel Teshome

Detailing a precedent setting case that led to the criminalising of the abduction of young girls for forced marriages in Ethiopia, Difret is a story worth telling in the current climate of religious fundamentalism and its negative impact on women. Despite its good intentions, Zeresenay Mehari's film is a misfire, thanks to a heavy handed, didactic screenplay and a lack of credible dialogue.
14-year-old Hirut (Hagere) is on her way home from school in rural Ethiopia when a group of armed men on horseback abduct her, taking her to another village where she is raped by an older man who intends to make her his bride. During an escape attempt, Hirut shoots her would be spouse dead and is arrested by the local police. An Ethiopian tradition, the abduction of young girls for marriage is perfectly legal (the film is set in the late '90s), and as a result of her self defence killing, Hirut faces execution for her crime.
Enter women's rights activist Meaza (the striking Getnet), who runs a non-profit organisation in the country's capital city Addis Ababa devoted to providing free aid to women who find themselves in need of such help. Facing hostility from the local authorities and the male populace of the rural village, Meaza takes Hirut into her care leading up to the trial. Witnesses willing to back up Hirut's claim of self defence are non-existent, and Meaza faces the greatest legal battle of her career.
Difret features a 'Presented by Angelina Jolie' credit, guaranteeing it a wider audience outside Ethiopia than that afforded to the rest of the African nation's cinematic output. Jolie came on board as executive producer following the film's completion, but it's all too clear that the film was always intended for international audiences. This is to the film's detriment, as presuming non-Ethiopians will have little familiarity with the country's more dubious traditions, every little detail is crudely spelled out through scene after scene of clunky dialogue. Only the conversations between Meaza and Hirut feel realistic; the rest of the movie plays like a series of lectures on Ethiopia's tribal customs and legal practices.
With an over-written script that rarely allows for nuance, ambiguity or visual storytelling, Difret is a plodding African cousin to Spielberg's Lincoln; a shame, as in Meron Getnet and Tizita Hagere it features two engaging stars who deserve a much better international platform for their talents.