Synopsis: An Israeli woman (Ronit Elkabetz) seeking to finalize a divorce (“gett”) from her estranged husband finds herself effectively put on trial by her country’s religious marriage laws, in this powerhouse courtroom drama from sibling directors Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz. In Israel, there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce; only Orthodox rabbis can legalize a union or its dissolution, which is only possible with the husband’s full consent. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Viviane Amsalem has been applying for a divorce for three years but her religiously devout husband Elisha, continually refuses. His cold intransigence, Viviane’s determination to fight for her freedom, and the ambiguous role of the rabbinical judges shape a procedure where tragedy vies with absurdity and everything is brought out into the open for judgment.
Release Date: February 13, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
In Israel, matrimony is a tricky subject. There is no such thing as a civil marriage, and all marriages must be performed and legitimized by a religious leader, usually a Rabbi. Of course, divorces are equally complicated; a dissolution of a marriage can also only be granted by a Rabbi, and only with the full consent of the husband. This concept, foreign to many Americans, is at the center of Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem tells the story of an Israeli woman, aptly named Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz from The Band’s Visit), who is seeking a divorce from her husband, Elisha (Casino Royale‘s Simon Abkarian). Elisha refuses to grant it to her, so the couple is forced to go back and forth in front of a panel of Rabbis in an attempt to either change one of their minds or get around the archaic law. The ordeal goes on for years, becoming a test of wills between husband and wife. In the end, Viviane must decide how far she is willing to go and what she is willing to do to gain her freedom.
Written and directed by Ronit Elkabetz (who plays Viviane) and her brother Shlomi, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is the final chapter in a trilogy of sorts that began in 2004 with To Take a Wife and continued in 2008 with 7 Days. The short name of the film – Gett – refers to the divorce document that Viviane so desperately seeks, while the longer section of the title – The Trial of Viviane Amsalem – is much more ominous; the proceedings are actually akin to a trial, with witnesses parading in and out and both parties represented by counselors. All of the film takes place in the same bland, sterile room, and most of the exposition is delivered through dialogue. Despite these usual trademarks of a boring movie, the film is surprisingly engaging. As the case unfolds, secrets are revealed and confessions are made, and the story is riveting. There is a thick tension between Viviane and Elisha, even while the two are completely silent and avoiding each other’s gazes, that adds an air of suspense and intrigue to the hearings. The movie is tedious, but decidedly so; the process is long and drawn-out, and the movie reflects that nicely. All the while, the lines between protagonist and antagonist are well-defined; the audience roots for Viviane and gets frustrated with Elisha. This character-based drama may get repetitive at times, but it’s never boring – the viewer relates to Viviane and wants to see what happens to her, for better or for worse.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is, as the title suggests, a courtroom drama, but not a traditional guilty-or-innocent one. There is no burden of proof or reasonable doubt, just the attempted convincing of a very stubborn man to let go of his past. There’s not a ton of action, but there’s plenty of drama. Anchored by a strong script and even stronger performances, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is an emotional ride that both angers and entertains.
Because the entirety of Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem takes place in a single room, cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie (8 Women) does some fascinating things to keep the film fresh and interesting for its almost two hour running time. Lapoirie’s camera breaks just about every rule of positioning, so that the characters seem to flip and switch places throughout each scene. At first, it’s a bit annoying, but eventually something happens: the viewer starts to feel the same confusion and frustration that Viviane herself must feel while listening to all of the different people in the room discuss and debate her future. The disorientation of the photography is actually extremely functional in this regard. When complemented by the thoughtful editing of Joel Alexis (Close to Home), the cinematography in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem helps to drive home the thematic content of the film.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ronit Elkabetz
- Screenwriter(s): Ronit ElkabetzShlomi Elkabetz
- Cast: Ronit Elkabetz (Viviane Amsalem)Simon Abkarian (Elisha Amsalem)
- Editor(s): Joel Alexis
- Cinematographer: Jeanne Lapoirie
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA