Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Golden Globe Nominated Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
is one area where Israel should find common ground with its radical neighbors:
its rabbinical system of divorce that applies to all, regardless of faith or
lack thereof, and invariably favors men. Of course, women’s rights are
assiduously protected in other spheres of life, so that compatibility extends
only so far. Nevertheless, for an emotionally neglected wife desperate to move
on with her life, divorce proceedings are unbearably unjust, absurd, and
protracted in Ronit & Schlomi Elkabetz’s Golden Globe nominated Gett: the Trial of Viviane Amsalem (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
has not lived with her husband Elisha for years. All that time, she has stayed
with her grown siblings, dutifully sending meals home to Elisha and their
children every night. She has never been unfaithful or in any way brought shame
on the family—aside from the scandal of their separation. She simply had enough
of his passive aggressive cruelty and the isolation imposed by his anti-social
an American court, this would be an open and shut case, especially when her
husband contemptuously disregards notices to appear in court. Despite his
recalcitrant behavior, the law remains on his side. As long as he continues to
deny her long-sought after divorce (or gett), nobody can force him to change
his mind. Viviane Amsalem’s decidedly unreligious attorney Carmel Ben Tovim will
continue to file objections and call witnesses, but the institutional fix is
in. Yet, like some sort of Kafkaesque Sisyphus, she continues to press a case
that will be observed in months and eventually years.
Gett paints a traumatizing
portrait of divorce, but unlike L.A. Law or
American exposes like Divorce Corp, the
Elkabetz sibling filmmakers never accuse the attorneys of exploiting the
proceedings for financial gain. Frankly, everyone in this film is abjectly
miserable, but the three-judge panel refuses impose a sensible gett, due their
overriding doctrinal concerns.
Elkabetz (so seductively earthy in the Oscar disqualified The Band’s Visit) is quite remarkable as Ms. Amsalem. She
viscerally conveys a sense of her bitter exhaustion, but can still shock us
with eruptions of repressed emotion, manifesting as rage or inappropriate
laughter. Simon Abkarian plays Mr. Amsalem with rigid discipline, coming off
cold, clammy, and callous. Yet, he adroitly reveals aspects of the husband “defendant”
that explain and somewhat humanize his actions to some extent, but not at the
expense of viewer sympathy for his embattled wife.
In terms of themes, tone, and intensity, Gett most closely compares to Asghar
Farhadi’s A Separation, but it
probably does the Iranian filmmaker no favors to liken his film with an Israeli
work. Regardless, they are both seamlessly exhausting viewing experiences.
Arguably, it is the mark of a healthy society that can forthrightly address its
faults through cultural and artistic statements. Frankly, you will not see Arab
cinema tackle gender inequity so candidly. Of course they also have even more
fundamental issues than biased divorce law to contend with, like honor killings
and female genital mutilation. No doubt that is slim comfort to the Viviane
Amsalems, but worth noting nonetheless. Recommended for the sheer power of its
performances and the Elkabetzes’ almost unbearably intimate dramatic focus, Gett: the Trial of Viviane Amsalem opens
this Friday (2/13) in New York, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.
Labels: Israeli Cinema, Ronit Elkabetz