Movie Review - Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Gett is the Israeli word for divorce and this film focuses on a married couple in the process of doing just that. It premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. It was nominated for 12 Israeli Film Academy Awards. It won two, including Best Film. As such, it became Israeli's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Oscars. It didn't get the nomination, but it was a nominee at the 72nd Golden Globes. It also won the NBR Award for Top Five Foreign Language Films. It was co-written and directed by Shlomi Elkabetz and his sister Ronit Elkabetz. It's the concluding chapter of their trilogy about an Israeli couple, which began ten years ago To Take a Wife (2004) and was followed by 7 Days (2008). It was released theatrically in the United States this year and is one of the best of the year. As a legal drama, it instantly ranks right up there with 12 Angry Men (1957), Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) or A Separation (2011).

Ronit Elkabetz stars as Viviane Amsalem, a woman who wants to divorce her husband after 30 years of marriage and after having several children. The first time we see her is in the tiny courtroom where the divorce has to be argued and oddly justified before three judges. For the most part, her lawyer speaks for her and a lot of Elkabetz's performance is wordless, in her face and in her body language, and it is brilliant. You are with her for every motion no matter how small and for every moment no matter how long.

Menashe Noy co-stars as Carmel Ben-Tovim, the lawyer representing Viviane. The problem that he faces is that the three judges who are also rabbis and Jewish law supersedes any civil logic, and, according to Jewish law, a married woman can't get a divorce unless her husband says so. Unless you can prove adultery or physical abuse, a woman can become trapped or completely at the mercy of the man. Carmel's job is to be a fierce advocate to appeal to the judges and circumvent this trap.

Sasson Gabai co-stars as Shimon Amsalem. He's the brother of Viviane's husband as well as his lawyer. His job is also to be a fierce advocate and reiterate the fact that his brother is a good man and on paper is a good husband. Shimon says his brother has a good job that provides financially. He hasn't cheated. He hasn't hit her, and he's a man who is all about his faith, but his being a good man doesn't mean he and Viviane are compatible.

Simon Abkarian plays Elisha Amsalem, the husband in question. He's at first absent and resistant to the court process. He's also quiet and seemingly very stubborn, as he becomes the personification of why this Jewish law is unfair. Thus, this film is a sharp critique of that law, which is of course patriarchal and sexist. It seems as if Elisha is in love with Viviane, but even he can't deny the assertions she makes of their problems. He simply wants her to do what he says or be how he wants her to be rather than listen to who she really is.

How Shlomi Elkabetz chooses to structure the film is clever and works so well. There are absolutely no exterior shots. In fact, the entire film takes place all in two rooms. The first is the tiny courtroom mostly and the other is the lobby or waiting area just outside the courtroom. There are no other locations, but Elkabetz is able to generate so much drama, excitement and tension without needing an external threat as in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).

The way he cuts and just his use of title cards can generate powerful emotions, such as frustration, heartbreak and even anger. The way he cuts to his actor's faces and bodies shows an incredible amount of control and vision on his part and is simply spectacular. Yet, while there is a lot of drama, there's also a great sense of humor from the filmmaker too, even to the point he has a character on screen laugh at the utter ridiculousness, but it's such an ingenious moment on various levels and it shows the skill at work here.

The film is divided into three segments. The first segment is all about getting Elisha to court. The second is various witnesses testifying about the marriage. The third is Viviane and Elisha going at each other after getting their turn to speak. There are a lot of great performances from the various witnesses. In fact, all of them are great.

However, the performance that stands about them all is Ronit Elkabetz as Viviane. She draws you into the screen. She is so amazing. She makes you feel for her, even up to her devastating breakdown at the end. She's incredible, and this is one of the best films of the year.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for general audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 56 mins.


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