Review: Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem 

Okay, so the title doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. But Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem is a compelling drama. Before revealing the premise, I want to remind you that some exceptional films are built around premises that are less than inviting. Groundhog Day, for instance, is about a weather forecaster repeating the same day over and over. Sounds unbearably tedious. Whiplash is the story of the mercurial relationship between a student and his abusive teacher. Who wants to watch that?

Gett is a two-hour courtroom story about an Israeli woman's fight to get a divorce from her husband. It's in Hebrew, French and Arabic with subtitles. In Israel, there is no such thing as a civil marriage or divorce. Rabbis handle couplings and uncouplings.

Quoting Wikipedia, “A gett is a divorce document in Jewish religious law, which must be presented by a husband to his wife to effect their divorce. The essential part of the gett is very short; the text is 'You are hereby permitted to all men,' which means that wife is no longer a married woman and the laws of adultery no longer apply.' The gett also returns to the wife the legal rights that husband holds in regard to her in a Jewish marriage.” NOTE: Gett is also spelled get. I've opted to stick with the spelling used by the filmmakers.

Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) wants a divorce from her husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian). He refuses. So she takes him to a court of three rabbis, where Elisha refuses to even speak. We watch the first hearing, then cut to the next, with words on the screen noting how much time has passed. Three weeks later … two months later … six months later … it keeps going and going. Witnesses are called, tempers flare, accusations are exchanged and the process drags on.

Gett manages to convey that sense of dragging on without becoming draggy itself. That's what makes films like this and Groundhog Day and Whiplash special. They are able to thoroughly address their premises without succumbing to them. Sibling filmmakers Ronit (yes, she is also the leading lady) and Shlomi Elkabetz keep the presentation simple. The entire film takes place either in the courtroom or the hallway and outside of it. The camerawork is matter-of-fact, with telling closeups.

No matter what the lawyers, witnesses and rabbis are saying, keep your eyes on Viviana and Elisha. Watch the excellent performances of the two actors, who convey at least as much in silence as they do with words. I was particularly struck by the occasional quick, wicked little smile that momentarily betrays Elisha's stoicism. Just what is going on in that man's head?

Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem is a fascinating, moving story about a woman caught in a system that keeps power in the hands of the males. Elisha believes that if he maintains his passive-aggressive stone face long enough he'll get what he wants. Viviane is just as determined to be free. Passive determination versus active determination. The movie delivers.

NOTE: After seeing the film, I learned that Viviane and Elisha appear in two other films by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz: In To Take a Wife, Viviane wants out of their 20 year marriage. In The Seven Days, she is living separately from him, but he continues to dominate her life. I'm glad I saw this one first.

ANOTHER NOTE: I intended to write about Red Army, a colorful, engaging documentary about Russian hockey, but Gett is the kind of movie that demands a feature review. I suggest you also check out Red Army. It may not be around long.


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What others are saying (2)

Inlander Fight for Rights Gett is an unflinching look at one woman's struggle in Israel by Marjorie Baumgarten 04/08/2015
Portland Mercury Unholy Matrimony Gett: Maybe don't ever get married if you live in Israel. by Megan Burbank 03/18/2015

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