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In an effort to see more foreign movies, so comes Difret. A movie dealing with the abduction, and rape, of a young girl, and a trial to see if whether her murdering her abductor shouldn’t lead to her own death, life in prison, or perhaps her being let free out of self-defense.
Trigger Warning(s): Rape of minor implied (Scene cuts away from act)
Characters & Story (with Commentary)
14-year-old Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is the daughter of a farmer and seemingly is one of a handful of girls privileged enough to go to school. Unfortunately for her, though, in her country of Ethiopia, and specifically in her local area, men abducting girls and then having them become their wife is not just tradition, but so accepted that it is damn near legal. Making Hirut, after being kidnapped, and raped, by a fully grown man named Tadele (Girma Teshome), seemingly doomed to a similar life that her sister has been entrapped with.
However, rather than accept a grim fate, Hirut takes a gun and runs and then, when caught, she shoots her abductor and luckily local police show up to stop Tadele’s 4+ friends from perhaps killing her. Enter Meaza (Meron Getnet), someone familiar with the village life, and the threat of abduction Hirut had to live with. Though in her case, Meaza didn’t have only sisters, as Hirut does, but brothers. Allowing her safe passage to school and back and allowing her to go as far as becoming a lawyer and judge.
Leading to a film focused on Meaza trying her best to thwart the locals who want death for Hirut. All the while, trying to set a precedent to combat the inane ways of tradition and promote guaranteed rights for women by law. A task which is such an uphill battle that you are left wondering if perhaps Hirut may not live to see such a law exist.
It is truly a beautiful thing to watch a film about another country, and not see some western country representative get involved and act as some magical force. Instead, we have someone like Meaza, who has a similar background to the would-be victim of the story, who acts as the champion. Something which I feel is very important because, with Hollywood often whitewashing stories, films like these seem rare.
Though a very small story, and only used to build up Meaza’s ability as a lawyer, I did like the Zenebe sub-plot for it laid the foundation for us witnessing people who seem generally nice, saying and doing horrible things. For, upon acquaintance, Zenebe doesn’t fit the idea of a wife beater, and yet when Meaza gets in his face, he switches up on her. This makes it so when we meet Gizaw (Brook Sheferaw) is introduced, you know the deal, and even when Hirut’s teacher speaks (Yeneneh Engedawok) you know that as good as his intention may generally be, he is only going to push back but so much.
With the movie being about tradition vs. sexism/ the law, it brings up an interesting story to explore. For all over the world, there is a consistent fight between what citizens are used to, and what protections would make for a better future. And with there being various point of views on Hirut’s situation, it brings you to the point of wondering how other traditions, when challenged by modern expectations, and the law, could play out on film.
There are times in the film, like when Meaza is crying in the car and banging on her steering wheel, when it is hard to not feel like this film is using familiar tactics and choices when it comes to the script and performance. Ones which, arguably, could be made for accolade bait.
On The Fence
Focusing on the characters and performances of the two lead actresses, Meaza to me was well crafted. Her personal life was established just enough to not make her seem like a robot, but not enough to make the story about her past, or her love life. Then, with Hirut, strangely her role being borderline supporting wasn’t that bad. If only because, Hagere didn’t seem capable of really pulling you in to the point of tears, at this point of her career. So just showing her be afraid, go through the motions, and let Getnet do the heavy lifting I thought was a good idea. Though it would have been nice if Hagere could have taken on more of the emotional weight.
Final Thought(s): TV Viewing
The content itself is the driving force what makes this film watchable. For it features a story some may not have heard about, which is presented as historically important, and worth nothing; it doesn’t fall into your usual issues dealing with having a white savior, or having characters whitewashed for either marketing or box office purposes; and, lastly, it gives you a sense of how Ethiopia maybe, at least in 1996.
But the problem with this film, which keeps me from labeling Worth Seeing is that the performances are simply adequate. Getnet does hold things down, and present just enough urgency and importance to Hirut’s case to make you care, but neither her, nor Hagere, seem to be at that point in their craft where they can truly grab hold onto you to the point where you want to know more about their characters, and you find yourself jumping for joy at every victory, and crying at every sign of defeat. Hence the TV Viewing label.