Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem , not rated, drama, in Hebrew, French, and Arabic with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3.5 chiles
Co-directed by its star, Israeli filmmaker and actress Ronit Elkabetz, and her brother Shlomi Elkabetz, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is a searing look at a regrettable marriage and the herculean effort it takes for an Israeli woman to divorce her husband under the Orthodox Jewish law there. Ronit Elkabetz plays Viviane, an unhappy wife who, after decades in a claustrophobic marriage to Elisha (Simon Abkarian) — a man she married when she was fifteen — takes her case to a rabbinical court, where most of the film is set. Already weary and drained of vitality from her years spent in an emotionally abusive and loveless marriage, her day in court is far from liberating. As indicated by the film’s title, Viviane is on trial here, though she has committed no crime. The “trial” takes on another connotation, as with an “ordeal.” The word “gett” refers to the document an Israeli husband must submit to the court before a legal divorce becomes possible. Legal proceedings are of course slanted to favor men. The court mirrors the marriage itself: cramped, uncomfortable, and draconian.
The panel of three judges convening to decide Viviane’s case are rankled by her, a woman who dares speak her mind in the misogynistic atmosphere of her Orthodox culture, in which a family’s men are the voices of authority and its women are treated like second-class citizens. It takes some time before we see Viviane and hear her speak — a depiction of her invisibility to the judges and lawyers as well as to Elisha. Yet, in this climate, Viviane’s silence speaks volumes. We feel her isolation and constriction, wishing for her freedom as passionately as she does. Small acts of rebellion take on huge significance. For instance, in court, she lets her hair down — an innocent enough indication of her desire to escape the restrictions imposed on her life — and is promptly chastised by the judges for immodesty. Week after week, the regal Viviane endures a farce that places her at the mercy of unreasonable men, and she’s routinely ignored, even during her testimony.
Gett was nominated for the 72nd Golden Globe Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and was the official Israeli selection in the same category for the 87th Academy Awards (though it wasn’t nominated). Far from being a vanity project for Elkabetz, the film’s unrelentingly tight focus and point-of-view shots ensure audience sympathy for Viviane’s plight. This is the third film from directors Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz about the unfortunate Amsalem family. (The first was 2004’s To Take a Wife , followed by 2008’s 7 Days .) However, viewers don’t have to see the earlier films to appreciate this one. On its own merits, Gett is a fierce indictment of a system of tyrannical beliefs and practices endemic to the culture its protagonist belongs to: Her keenly felt struggle represents much more than the oppression of one woman.
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