GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSALAM
**** (out of 5)
Ronit Elkabetz as VIVIANE ANSALEM
Simon Abkarian as ELISHA AMSALEM
Menashe Noy as CARMEL BEN TOVIM
Sasson Gabay as RABBI SHIMON
Eli Gornstein as HEAD RABBI SOLMION
Rami Danon as RABBI DANINO
Roberto Pollak as RABBI ABRAHAM
Albert Illuz as MEIR
Evelin Hagoel as EVELYN BEN CHOUCHAN
Ruby Porat Shoval as RACHEL AMZALLEG
Ze’ev Revach as SIMO
Dalia Beger as DONNA ABOUKASSIS
Avraham Selektar as SHMUEL AZOULAY
Shmil Ben Ari as YA’AKOV BEN HAROUCH
Gabi Amrani as HAIM
Studio: Deux Beaux Garcons Films
Directed by: Ronit Elkabetz & Shlomi Elkabetz
BY KEVIN CARR
One of the leading dramas at the Jerusalem Film Festival this year was “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalam,” which also played at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Similar to the groundbreaking Iranian drama “A Separation,” “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalam” examines the nuances of divorce and marriage separation under strict religious laws.
Directed by Ronit Elkabetz (who also plays the title character) and Shlomi Elkabetz, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalam” is clearly made for the Israeli audience, but there’s a lot to be drawn from it for those outside of the strict Jewish culture.
Taking place almost entirely in a single room, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalam” unfolds much like a stage play, and it faces its many challenges head-on. The story follows estranged wife Viviane Amsalam (Ronit Elkabetz) who is seeking a divorce from her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) in rabbinical court. Because Jewish law mandates that the husband must not only consent to the divorce but go through many steps to separate the marriage, Viviane’s hands are tied when her husband refuses to grant the action.
Throughout the film, we are dragged through the tedious and bureaucratic process of a woman seeking a gett, which is Hebrew for “divorce.” Even though the marriage has grown toxic, and it is clear the couple is incompatible, tradition keeps Elisha from giving in, essentially tying Viviane’s hands with hopelessness.
Those not familiar with Jewish legal proceedings (which includes yours truly) might find the film frustrating but fascinating. Like many pieces of Israeli cinema, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalam” is an issue-driven film. It seeks to challenge the traditions of the past and equalize them for the modern world. Indeed, Ronit Elkabetz has her Oscar clip moment as she literally begs her husband and the Rabbis on the court to grant her wishes, pleading for a change in what some (including the filmmakers, it seems) might feel are archaic laws.
Often compared to “A Separation,” both by the audience and the filmmakers themselves, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalam” is a more intimate drama as well as a harsher one. We see a woman imprisoned in her own marriage, and even though there is no direct reason why she needs the divorce (like adultery or abuse), she is unable to have her own goals realized.
Even though I like to think of myself as relatively young, I do remember a time when divorce was on the rise in America. Women’s hands were not tied the way they are in this film, but as I grew up in the 70s and 80s, I watched as the term “irreconcilable differences” became commonplace in marriages ending rather than a point or action in which people can identify as the schism of the relationship.
It is not my place to pass judgement on the whole of Jewish law, as I am but a non-Jewish American who has come to the issues of this film in a compacted feature-length running time, but I can empathize with both sides on this one. However, it is clear that Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz have a definite point to be made, and they have constructed a compelling, heartbreaking and powerful drama through which to make it.
Keep your eye on “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalam” because it’s not the last we’ve heard of this one. Taking into account the considerable challenges the film faces – from various language barriers (featuring dialogue in Hebrew, French and Moroccan) as well as its limiting but compelling sets – it’s a feat of editing and directing to make it so good at commanding your attention.