Friday, February 13, 2015

Movie with Abe: Gett

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
Directed by Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz
Released February 13, 2015

Divorce is never an easy thing. There is an added layer of complication when religion is involved, since many faiths frown on separation of any kind. Even if divorce is acceptable, there can be many steps required to actually effect the legal dissolution of a marriage. In observant Judaism, the power lies firmly in the hands of the husband, who must agree to give a get, the divorce document, in order to make the divorce official. A rabbinic court can preside over a pending divorce, but if the man refuses to give his wife the gett, there is little that can be done according to Jewish law.

“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” showcases one individual story representative of the numerous women who are still fighting battles to be Jewishly divorced from their unflinching husbands. Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) has been unhappy for years with her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) and seeks a divorce. Viviane’s commitment to getting what is right and being freed is matched by Elisha’s stubbornness and unwillingness to validate any of her claims to a renewed life without him. Viviane refuses to give up, which leads to an impossibly long and drawn out trial involving witnesses for both sides and the same refrain of Elisha not flinching.

The entirety of “Gett” takes place within a courtroom, with each scene introduced by a timestamp that details how many months have passed since their last time in court. Three rabbis sit in judgment, while both Viviane and Elisha have legal representation. Viviane’s lawyer is Carmel Ben-Tovim (Menashe Noy), a close friend who refuses to pander to the religious air of the proceedings. Elisha is defended by his brother Shimon (Sasson Gabai), a learned man who effortlessly earns the respect of the court because of his passion for Judaism. There are elements of the trial that feel universally legal in nature, while others are distinctly religious and tailored specifically for that setting.

Keeping the entire film in just one room is a bold notion, and one that pays off tremendously. It is hard to stomach the stifling and endless nature of this trial, which feels just as long when a passionate exchange occurs for ten minutes and when months are skipped over instantly with a new title card. The story is incisive and infuriating, laced with humor to make it tolerable and even occasionally enjoyable while its overarching plot is deeply devastating. The cast is uniformly fantastic, led by Elkabetz and Abkarian, together again for the third time in a feature directed by Elkabetz and her brother Shlomi. Noy and Gabai are true standouts as the lawyers who often get just as personally passionate about what they are advocating for as their clients. This is equal parts educational material and stunning cinema, immensely moving and deeply unforgettable.


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