Saturday, March 14, 2015

Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem

Actor Ronit Alkabetz directs and stars in "Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem," a visceral and disturbing analysis of the process involved in obtaining a divorce under the confines of Orthodox law.

Here an Israeli hairdresser, Viviane, (Alkabetz) is in a gray and unloving marriage and seeks a divorce or a gett, to move on rather than face spiritual exile.  Her husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian) refuses.

The film resembles a stark white stage set for the most part, with three rabbis giving piercing looks.  As minimalist as the setting is, the story holds its own, suspenseful, gripping and hardly ever letting go. The film gives the color white loads of tension.

Viviane is led into an almost blinding pale room. The esteemed Rabi Saloman  (Eli Gornstein) presides over all, his face baleful and imperious.  The obtaining of the divorce is pulled to a stop almost from the start of the trial for the simple reason that Elisha resolves not to communicate or show his face.

The rabbi's hands are tied.

Over a year later, and one by one, witnesses are brought forth. Evelyn (Evelin Hagoel), a friend of Viviane is questioned. While supportive, Evelyn is suddenly interrogated by Elisha's needling counsel and runs for the exit. Then, a mutual friend, Donna, (Dalia Beger) testifies. She is sympathetic of Viviane, but ultimately sides with Elisha, being uncertain as to Viviane's reasons for wanting a gett so badly.

There are numerous postponements and aborted meetings. Nearly two years pass.

At one session,  Viviane's lawyer, Carmel (Menashe Noy) storms out under relentless questions of a supposed affair between the two.

Throughout the trial, Viviane shows a great range of emotion, from disbelief to boredom. There is also cynicism, coupled with a shock and horror that is edged with a deep sadness that has no ground or bottom.  Elisha's face by contrast is held aloft in a perpetual challenge, his expression shellacked in contempt.

The deliberate formal and almost slumberous  proceedings, together with the room's harsh angled walls and impassivity lulls one into a trance. Suddenly, all the soporific geometry is blown apart by Viviane now transformed into a human mistral, a pale Medusa of rage, as she realizes that her hopes of obtaining a divorce from this willed and stubborn man, may well be unreachable and trivial in the eyes of an Israeli court.

"Gett" is deceptive and sneaky in its simplicity . The plodding chatty proceedings almost have the shape of comedy at times only to re-form into a noose knotted for women who happen to ask for what normally would be given in other countries.

The last scene alone is gut-wrenchingly untempered by humanness, and would very likely have kept Franz Kafka up at night.

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