Difret Review
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Many of this fall’s releases feature women standing up for their rights—from the Pakistani teen in Davis Guggenheim’s latest documentary, He Named Me Malala, to the feminists of Suffragette. In the Ethiopian drama Difret, a teenager acts in self-defense and has to fight for her life in court.

Difret tells the story of 14-year-old Hirut Assefa (Tizita Hagere), who was abducted in October of 1996 while walking home from her school in Ethiopia. Traditionally, men in her village would abduct women with the intention of marrying them. But after being assaulted by her kidnapper, Hirut fought back, stealing a gun, which she used to kill him as he tried to stop her from running away. Though her kidnapper’s friends and family planned to kill her as punishment for her crime, a young lawyer, Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet) was able to step in to defend her.

On the surface, Difret is a kind of Ethiopian Law & Order, following Hirut and her unwavering attorney as they fight for the young girl’s freedom. Along the way, they file motions, confront police officers, and battle the assistant DA who’s fighting for a speedy conviction. They even use the press in their favor, as any good TV lawyer would. But Hirut’s case has some additional complications, starting with the fact that, because she’s the child of poor farmers, she doesn’t have a birth certificate to prove that she’s only 14.

And, of course, there’s so much more to this story than just another court case—so many deeper issues that it tackles. The cultural differences are fascinating—from the barbaric traditions that the girls in Hirut’s village are forced to endure to the customary court that makes its ruling under a tree outside the village long before Hirut is brought before a judge. It’s a story built on culture and traditions—no matter how archaic they may be.

Still, in the midst of it all, there’s one woman who’s leading the fight for what’s right—who stands up for this young girl who can no longer stand up for herself. Her dedication and resourcefulness are inspiring—and the relationship between the girl and her lawyer makes for some heartwarming moments, too.

In the end, the film offers some hope, but it also concludes with a word of warning: that, no matter what happens to Hirut, the struggle isn’t over—that girls like her still aren’t safe. And though it doesn’t offer any solutions, it’s an eye-opening film about the challenges for women on the other side of the world and the steps that some people are taking to bring about change.

Difret isn’t a gut-wrenching, edge-of-your-seat kind of drama—and it doesn’t end with a commanding call to action. But it’s an attention-grabbing story, told with both passion and compassion—and the characters fit well with this fall’s other female freedom fighters.

Listen to the review on Reel Discovery:

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