Thursday, October 30, 2014

ADFF: ‘Difret’ has a powerful message

Heart-wrenching Ethiopian film is based on a true story about a 14-year-old fighting for justice
This year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) is bringing us some of the best films from around the world in different genres, but for a film to inspire and encourage the feminist in you, we think we have found a winner: Difret.
The film marked its premiere in the Middle East and North Africa on Tuesday at ADFF.
Difret tells the story of a 14-year-old Ethiopian girl (played by Tizita Hagere) who is abducted and raped on her way home from school by a much older man who had planned to marry her against her will. The girl, Hirut, grabs the man’s rifle, and tries to escape, but ends up shooting him dead.
Based on real events that sparked outrage in Ethiopia 20 years ago, the film also follows a lawyer, Maeza Ashenafi (played by Meron Getnet), who works at a women’s association, and takes on the job of defending Hirut in court.

While Maeza knows the law is likely to be in her favour, she is faced with the much bigger challenge, which is public opinion. The male-dominated society that Hirut comes from wants to see her hanged for killing a man who was “merely following his tradition of abducting his wife.”
One man even excuses Hirut’s abductor and rapist, saying, “Men abduct when they fall in love.”
After Maeza manages to pull some strings to get Hirut out of jail, they realise Hirut cannot go back home as almost every man in her village is determined to kill her. She ends up spending a few nights with Maeza, after which she goes to a boarding school.
The film is bound to get you teary-eyed at times with sad irony such as Hirut’s family’s insistence that Maeza stay for lunch even though there is no money to feed any of them, or when Hirut leaves her bed to sleep on the floor because that is what she is used to with her family.
Perhaps the most emotional part, though, is the court session itself when the verdict is announced. After over six months of work, Hirut is finally found innocent of the murder charge against her as the judges accept that she was acting in self-defence.
The audience at the Emirates Palace broke into applause as the verdict was announced, with several people (including men) admitting the film was very emotional.
Indeed, the film succeeds in pulling audiences into the story, which begs viewers to support a girl who has already been victimised by society.
Even after Hirut is set free, she admits to her lawyer, “I don’t feel like I won anything. I can’t even protect my sister. They’ll get her one day,” and viewers suddenly realise that the happy ending is merely the tip of the iceberg for the misogynistic society.
First-time actress Hagere, who plays 14-year-old Hirut, does a great job captivating audiences. If she can trigger tears with her first performance, we reckon this is one actress to keep your eye on.
The film has already been met with positive reviews since its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award. It also screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, winning another Audience Award. It has been selected as Ethiopia’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.
Difret is set for release across the UAE in January, 2015. It is in Amharic (Ethiopia’s official language) with English and Arabic subtitles.