Front Row at the Movies
"Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" Examines Divorce In Israel
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
How does one describe this film? It is a courtroom drama. It is a study of two unhappy people. But it’s more a testimony about the complexity of divorce in Israel.
You see, in that country there is no such thing as civil matrimony or civil divorce. Both must be performed by rabbis.
Problem is, the rabbi cannot divorce a woman without her husband’s permission.
And what does one do if he refuses -- no matter how unhappy the wife may be with the union?
"Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" recounts such a situation. The subtitled Israeli-French film is currently showing at the Tropic Cinema.
"Gett" is the Hebrew word for a divorce document. While the laws of "gittin" only provide for a divorce initiated by the husband, the wife has the right to sue for divorce in a rabbinical court. In rare cases, a divorce can be granted if there’s just cause.
Here Viviane Amsalem has lived separately from her husband for three years. Elijah doesn’t beat or physically abuse her. Neither have been unfaithful to the other. She simply does not want to go back to him.
As a hairdresser, she’s self-supporting, even deposits her salary into their joint bank account. You see, they have 11 years left on paying their home’s mortgage. One child remains at home with the father, but the mother sees him every day and prepares his meals.
Her husband is obstinate. He refuses to agree to a divorce. In fact, he refuses to show up in court except when compelled. The three presiding rabbis are at wit’s end.
They order a trial reconciliation and Vivian returns home but at the next court appearance she reiterates her desire to end the marriage. But Elijah staunchly refuses to agree.
What is the recourse? Court appearance after court appearance, a marathon of nerves, it must continue until one side or the other capitulates.
And as the rabbis probe, all family secrets come out.
This back-and-fourth drama has very little scenic backdrop, the story mostly taking place in a plain courtroom with Viviane, her lawyer, her husband, his brother, and the three rabbis.
"Gett" was directed by siblings Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz. Ronit is not only co-director, she stars as Viviane Armsalem. Simon Abkarian takes the opposing role of her cold and remote husband. Menashe Noy sits in as the wife’s legal representative. Sasson Gabai carries on as the husband’s protective brother. And Eli Gornstein, Roberto Pollak, and Rami Danon give us the three wise men. A small cast for a small, tightly told story.
Ronit Elkabetz is one of Israeli cinema’s most acclaimed actresses. You may have seen her in "Late Marriage" or "The Band’s Visit." Both are notable films worth your Netflix search.
And you may have caught a glimpse of Simon Ebkarian in the 007 film "Casino Royale."
"Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" was Israel’s entry as Best Foreign Language Film in the 87th Academy Award.