Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, is the story of one woman’s desire to dissolve an unhappy marriage after nearly 30 years from a spiteful husband who will try to win at all costs to keep his wife only for the sake of saving face in front of the neighbors and the synagogue.
Ronit Elkabetz plays Viviane Amsalem, a woman who has been seeking divorce from her husband Elisa (Simon Abkarian) for five long-suffering years. What most Westerners don’t know is that in Israel there is no civil marriage, only religious ones, so in order to obtain an divorce, it has to come from a rabbinical court and it is the husband who has to grants his wife a divorce.
The Amsalem’s are Maghrebim Jews of Moroccan origins who are having their trial heard by Ashkenazim Orthodox rabbis. Without proof of physical abuse or financial neglect, the rabbis are reluctant to grant Viviane a divorce, even after several hold ups by Elisa who refused to attend numerous court meetings, a half-dozen witnesses and jail time, Elisa still refuses to abide by his wife’s wishes.
For those of us with Middle Eastern backgrounds, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is a very well written drama that depicts religious divorce in Israel. However, this film will shock most Westerners who’s common misconception is that Israel is essentially America Jr. People forget that the notion of secular Israel was founded in 1948, but when all your holy, religious shrines and ancient ancestors surround your community, it still upholds to Judaism’s theological influence, which includes marriage and divorce.
Iraqi-Israeli actor Sasson Gabai was the perfect antagonist playing Rabbi Shimon, Elisa’s advocate and brother. Elkabetz wears many hats in this production as lead actress, co-writer and co-director with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz. Menashe Noy who portrays Carmel Ben Tovim, Viviane’s advocate captures the frustrated attorney who’s hands are tied, by a courtroom blinded to the suffering of its female plaintiff.
I adored the various dialects and accents used in this film to show the diversity within Israeli society. The use of blending Arabic (or Farsi) and French with Hebrew is exactly how the Maghrebim and Mizrahim Jews speak, similar to Yiddish being blended with Hebrew used by the Ashkenazim. I have to admit that I fell off my chair laughing when Rachel (Rubi Porat Shoval) turned her testimony into a rant about Russian immigrants ruining Israel. It’s a very Middle Eastern trait when making a public confession, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim to add an extra dig of getting that little bit more off your chest which has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand.
The Elkabetz siblings prove that with the right script, directors can tell a compelling story using only one room and two cameras. A must see for anyone who enjoys true cinema, character development and pure emotion over CG effects.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem opens in Los Angeles, CA on Friday, February 13, 2015.