- Price of Love dir. by Hermon Hailay
Price of Love (2015), the third feature of the writer-director Hermon Hailay, augments her reputation as one of a growing number of prominent female filmmakers in Ethiopia (along with Kidest Yilma, Luna Kuma, Alemtsehay Bekele, Aida Ashenafi, Roman Befekadu, and others). Premiered in competition at FESPACO in March 2015 and subsequently touring the international film festival circuit, Price of Love is the second narrative feature to achieve global exposure from an Ethiopian filmmaker engaged within the local film industry (building on the success of Yidnekatchew Shumete’s Nishan in 2013). Setting high technical and aesthetic standards, these films exemplify recent filmmaking in Ethiopia which has been developed to satisfy the popular demand cultivated in cinemas across the nation. [End Page 237]
Price of Love challenges the negative image of the stereotypical prostitute by focusing its perspective on the revelation of tenderness and affection in the face of socioeconomic desperation. An unflinching exposé of love’s urban underbelly, it was filmed on location among Addis Ababa’s sprawling streets and grand new designs, and made on a budget of only U.S.$10,000; the lighting, sound, cinematography, and production set high standards for the rest of the industry in Ethiopia.
At its core, Price of Love is a drama about prostitution and the trafficking of Ethiopian women to the Middle East. The vulnerability of love in circumstances in which people are caught between the alternatives of prostitution and economic destitution provides a point of departure for the exploration of gender dynamics in a male-dominated world. The story follows the son of a prostitute, Tewodros (Teddy), who is an unassuming taxi driver struggling to make ends meet on the streets of Addis Ababa. Teddy’s first love is his Lada taxi, provided by an Ethiopian Orthodox priest who acts as his guardian at the request of his late mother. Teddy’s taxi is a symbol of his new life as a man consciously rejecting the numerous addictions of his past (alcohol, khat, and gambling) and determined to prove his worth to the priest and society in general. When the Lada is stolen after a night in which Teddy helps a prostitute (Fere) escape an aggressive ex-lover (Marcos) outside an upmarket bar, the source of Teddy’s income and his hope for redemption disappear. Brought together by their misfortune and their attempts to recover the stolen taxi, Fere and Teddy find themselves in delicate love. However, as Marcos stands in the way of Teddy’s reclaiming his Lada, offering it up only in exchange for Fere, Teddy is confronted with a set of dreadful dilemmas, causing the viewer to consider the “price of love.”
Teddy’s Lada taxi is not only central to Price of Love’s narrative, representing a symbolic third character, but it is also used to good cinematographic effect, providing a mobile platform for framing the urban streets of Addis. In the opening sequence low-angled tracking shots and shots looking out through the windscreen and windows offer a dynamic street-level perspective of the city, establishing the film’s location as well as the fast pace of its narrative. The pace of the editing and effective sound design enhance the tonal changes within the film, with a myriad of shots and camera angles—panoramic long shots, close-ups, and tracking shots used to create a vibrant image of turbulent street-life—framing the fluctuating nature of a burgeoning Addis Ababa and its inhabitants. Images of the urban outdoors contrasting the modern ring-roads with cobbled side-streets and 4x4 Toyotas with Soviet era Ladas create a binary image of contemporary Addis life—of economic winners and losers and of growing inequalities. In a country of high youth unemployment in which neither Teddy nor Fere have family to fall back on, it is their love for each other and the moral guidance of the priest that provide a glimmer of hope.
Resonating throughout Price of Love, and common throughout Amharic-speaking Ethiopia...