If a girl is lucky, her father approves of – or at least does not object to – the man who claims her as his wife to be. If the girl is less lucky, a man who is disapproved of may kidnap the girl for the purpose of marrying her. It helps to enlist a few friends to facilitate the power play.
The word “may” refers not merely to the possibility of “marriage by abduction.” Such practice is actually permitted by custom. This custom has long existed. It still exists in various regions of the world. Lower on the luck continuum, the girl may be locked up to aid the transition and may be raped to brand the coming state of marriage.
In the film “Difret” – based on a true story – a 14-year-old in rural Ethiopia is kidnapped, locked up, and raped for the purpose of marriage. The girl manages to escape and to defend herself during the ensuing chase.
The police arrest the girl. A poor people’s lawyer sticks her neck into the case. Her agency typically works in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia’s capital city). Watch what it is like to seek justice in such a cultural environment. Get a feel for bureaucracy and advocacy in an unfamiliar corner of the globe. Digest the juxtaposition of the formal legal system and the traditional mechanisms. Observe closely what individual women and men do in this story.
As a cinematic experience, “Difret” runs a bit flat, relying too much on the facts and tugs of the issues at hand. With compelling characters and relationships at the ready, the storytelling could have benefited from more emotional and backstory tension. That said, the victimized girl and committed lawyer are akin to angelic movers in a painfully slow process toward modern cultural maturity.
“Difret” means “the act of being raped.” Perhaps it serves the film’s focus well that it tends to de-sensationalize this telling example in a backwater country. Fortunately, “Difret” in no way presses reflective consideration of mired cultural justice in the United States.