Film Review: Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem
With a running time of 1 hour 56 minutes, Gett might seem to be quite a long film, but every minute of it is riveting and holds the viewer's undivided attention.
Directed and written by the sister-brother team of Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz and based partly on their own family history, this gripping courtroom drama set in Israel traces a Moroccan Jewish woman's effort to obtain a gett, or religious divorce, after years of a loveless marriage. In Israel, there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce; only Orthodox rabbis can legalize a union or its dissolution, which is only possible with the husband’s full consent.
In the film, Viviane Amsalem, powerfully played by Ronit Elkabetz (Sh'chur, Late Marriage and The Band's Visit) has applied for a divorce for three years but her religiously devout, traditional husband Elisha continually refuses. His cold intransigence and her determination to fight for her freedom result in five more years of delays and appeals before the rabbinical judges.
The film's subtitle The Trial of Viviane Amsalem refers to Amsalem's dual trials of having to wait so long to obtain a divorce and being put on trial for the failure of the marriage. After all, as her brother testifies, Elisha doesn't beat her, isn't unfaithful, and provides for her and their children. Yet when asked to characterize the tone of their marriage, he concedes it is "bitter as gall."
While praising her qualities as a housekeeper and mother, Viviane’s brother, other witnesses, and the rabbinical judges themselves believe it's her fault that the couple can't get along. The camera highlights her small acts of rebellion such as wearing pants to a religious court, appearing barelegged in short skirts, barefoot in sandals, and at one point letting her hair down before the judges.
Viviane is chained to her husband and this is reflected cinematically by the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film. Almost every scene is set in the confined, bare courtroom except for a few shots in a cramped waiting room and one or two poignant shots of Vivian longingly looking outside through a window.
Although rabbis claim that they do everything to help wives, because of shalom bayit (peace in the home) the reality is that the law clearly favors the husband's will over the wife's wishes. Incompatibility is clearly not considered an acceptable reason for divorce. "Does my wife fit me?" one witness asks. "No, but I make her fit." Because of the rabbis’ “sacred duty” to do everything possible to preserve a Jewish household, they claim reluctance to put the personal wish to end a marriage above religious duty. The result is a mixture of absurdity and tragedy.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is the final part of a trilogy of films made by the Elkabetz team: To Take A Wife (2004) and Shiva (2008). It won the Israeli Film Academy Ophir Award for Best Picture and was short-listed for Best Foreign Film for the Academy Award and for the Golden Globes.
In a year of extraordinary Israeli films made by women directors (Zero Motivation, Self-Made, That Lovely Girl), Gett is a highly relevant, resonant film that shouldn’t be missed.
Ronit Elkabetz & Shlomi Elkabetz, directors/writers
Year of Release: 2014
Running time: 1 hr. 56 min.
Distributor: Music Box Films
How to cite this page
Davis, Karen. "Film Review: Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem." 27 March 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 22, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/film-review-gett-trial-of-vivian-anselem>.