Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s new docudrama shines light on the lack of basic rights that many women around the globe suffer from, and specifically, a groundbreaking 1996 legal case in Ethiopia. There, in traditional rural cultures, telefa, or the practice of abducting young women into marriage, continues. That’s what happens to 14-year-old Hirut (Tizita Hagere), a bright teenager walking home from school. But after being abducted and raped, she breaks free and, in self-defense, shoots her captor. When she’s charged with murder, her case is taken on by Meaza (Meron Getnet), a lawyer who works for a women’s legal-aid group in the nearby city.
Mehari’s film, shot in Ethiopia, is decidedly earnest, and of course, covers important subject matter. It suffers in places from choppy pacing, and from supporting characters who aren’t well-defined. But the two leads commit wholly, and young Hagere is affecting in her difficult role. (The frightened Hirut is often silent.) And though the story’s outcome is obvious, Mehari presents an informative, if infuriating, portrait of a country struggling to balance modern ways with the residual authority of long-honored traditions, however abhorrent.