Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014) – An exceptional Israeli courtroom drama

An Israeli middle-aged woman Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) is trying to break free off her husband of 30 years, Elisha (Simon Abkarian, who played one of the baddies Casino Royale). She desperately needs a “gett” (divorce) but he is unwilling to grant it to her. As the film opens, we are in the middle of a trial. The woman’s lawyer is pleading her case before the judges. There is something different about the Israeli court system. This is a religious court presided over by three rabbis. The rabbis repeatedly ask him to grant her the divorce and his answer is always the same: “No”. What ensues is a hilarious 30 minutes that gradually turns into the serious courtroom drama that it really wants to be. Her reason is simple: She doesn’t love him anymore. They are simply incompatible. What is so hard to understand about that? But alas, this is not the U.S. The husband refuses to show up in court on more than once occasion.  Viviane, her lawyer and the judges are all at their wit’s end. Witnesses are slowly brought in and at one point, a witness takes the side of both of them and this results in yet another humorous situation.

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Several thought-provoking arguments are put forward by the lawyers from both sides. She, along with us, is forced to go in and out of the same courtroom for the next 5 years and what we see is the husband still being the same stubborn son-of-a-bitch that he used to be when the trial first began. This is about a woman trapped and made to feel increasingly claustrophobic inside an absurd, almost Kafka-esque legal process that is overseen by men with a patriarchal and sexist mindset. Even though the film is set in the same location for the entire length of it’s duration, it never manages to bore us. I didn’t know what to expect going into the film. I first assumed it was a comedy judging by the comical situations that take place in the first 30 minutes. In many ways it reminded me of 2011’s A Separation which too dealt with a similar subject. Compellingly acted and thoughtfully directed (by siblings, one of them being the lead actress), Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is both frustrating and rewarding at the same time. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It should be made compulsory viewing for any serious cinephile.

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