‘Gett’ a gripping legal and domestic drama 

click to enlarge Ronit Elkabetz co-wrote, co-directed and stars as woman trapped in a loveless marriage in the riveting “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.” - COURTESY FILMS DISTRIBUTION
  • Ronit Elkabetz co-wrote, co-directed and stars as woman trapped in a loveless marriage in the riveting “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.”
In Israel, a wife cannot get a divorce if her husband will not consent to it.

“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” puts a human face on this religiously driven rule through the story of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage.

Written and directed by the brother-sister team of Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz (and starring Ronit), the drama is the last in a trilogy (after “To Take a Wife” and “Seven Days”), but it stands alone just fine. The only background needed is the knowledge that Israeli divorces happen not in civil courts, but in Orthodox rabbinical courts, and women’s rights suffer dearly.

Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz), a hairdresser with dark eyes and a conservative bun, seeks a divorce from Elisha (Simon Abkarian), her husband of 30 years. She is miserably unhappy.

The pious, inflexible Elisha, however, won’t let Viviane go. He refuses to present her with the divorce document known as a gett. Because no adultery, physical violence or legally identified verbal abuse has occurred – incompatibility and emotional cruelty apparently don’t count – the judges, without a gett, won’t dissolve the marriage. Instead, they prolong the process, at one point instructing Viviane to return to Elisha and try to mend the relationship. Viviane and her lawyer (Menashe Noy) end up pursuing the case for five years.

The action consists of episodes in which Viviane sits in a courtroom where a panel of three bearded rabbis hears testimony and issues rulings, most unconstructive. Elisha sits dourly in silence or speaks in French (he hails from Morocco) instead of Hebrew or doesn’t show up at all. The judges punish Elisha for his no-shows but simultaneously frown on female independence.

When Viviane lets her long hair down, or her spirited sister-in-law (Rubi Porat Shoval), a comic-relief presence, rages about the plight of women in Israel, the judges rebuke them.

Elisha’s brother (Sasson Gabai), acting as Elisha’s lawyer, calls the clearly proper Viviane a “wayward woman.”

The film isn’t on a par with “Scenes From a Marriage” or “A Separation.” The confines of the court setting limit its scope. Were it longer than 115 minutes, we might start feeling as boxed in as Viviane.

But it is no stagy affair or shallow he-said-she-said story. It is a claustrophobically gripping, craftily scripted, beautifully acted and sometimes farcically funny blend of legal, social, domestic and no-exit drama.

The filmmakers impressively indict an egregiously sexist policy that regards women as men’s property.

Elkabetz, whose acting credits include “The Band’s Visit,” stands out among the excellent cast. Her face registers despair, frustration. determination and defiance intimately, symbolically and unforgettably. When the contained Viviane explodes, we’re spellbound.


Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

three and a half stars

Starring Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Menashe Noy, Sasson Gabay

Written and directed by Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz

Not rated

Running time 1 hour, 55 minutes

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Anita Katz

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