Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014)

Review #1,231

Director:  Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz
Cast:  Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Gabi Amrani
Plot:  In Israel, only rabbis can legitimate a marriage or its dissolution.  But this dissolution is only possible with full consent from the husband, who in the end has more power than the judges.  Viviane Amsalem has been applying for divorce for three years.  But her husband Elisha will not agree.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Golden Globe - Best Foreign Language Film
Runtime:  115min
Rating:  PG
International Sales:  Films Distribution

The co-director of Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem plays the title character herself in a performance of understated intensity that draws us to her predicament.  She is strong and unwavering, but the law is blind to her suffering.  She is on trial with her husband in a bid to be granted a divorce, which the latter categorically refuses. 

In Jewish law, the husband has the final say on divorcement, rendering religious rabbis useless in the courtroom.  So it all plays out to the tune of a Rashomon-esque drama that borders on farce.  Gett is funny and serious at the same time as we witness the ineptitude of the judges to stay the course, and the plaintiff, defendant and witnesses all clamouring for (or are they hanging on to?) their versions of truth. 

The film is never didactic, neither does it resort to melodrama.  The performances are top-drawer, but it is the writer-directors Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz's skill in situating the drama in a confined space, and (still) making it entertaining that assures Gett's audiences won't find the film boring. 

There are only so many ways to film a courtroom scene, and the entire picture is littered with them from start to finish.  Viviane gets her 'Joan of Arc' close-ups, her seemingly silent demeanor speaking so much about her frustration as a Jewish woman at the mercy of archaic laws and indiscreet sexism. 

Religion and marriage are the main themes that govern the film, the two pillars of life and love as it were, manifesting themselves not just in Gett, but in many movies from Israel, most recently (and notably) in Fill the Void (2012), a film about an arranged levirate marriage under grounds of obligatory tradition. 

Some may argue that Gett has a strong feminist slant, but to be honest Viviane had already won the battle from the moment the trial started.  There is struggle of course, and the film takes pains to show that, but her struggle is a clever misdirection, hiding something we don’t see until the very end – the erosion of her husband’s dignity.  As much as Gett is about women’s rights, it is also about the end of the patriarchal order, wherein the law should now find itself irreconcilable.

Verdict:  Unexpectedly thought-provoking, this minimalist and intimate Rashomon-esque courtroom drama deals with heavy themes of religion, marriage and law without being didactic or overwrought with melodrama.


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