DVD Review: Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Gett1 DVDSTUDIO: Music Box Films | DIRECTOR: Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz | CAST: Ronit Elkabetz, Menashe Noy, Simon Abkarian, Sasson Gabai, Gabi Amrani, Rami Danon
RELEASE DATE: 6/9/15 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $34.95
BONUSES: featurette, three interviews
SPECS: NR | 115 min. | Foreign language drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | French, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

Divorce, Israeli style. That pretty much sums up Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz’ Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, a minimalist courtroom drama that never leaves the cold, stark white office that doubles as a courtroom. Unlike most courtroom-set films (which depend on a great whodunit to draw you in), Gett ‘s real protagonist is the Israeli justice system, and the ancient religious code that was used to build it. Only men can demand (and allow) a divorce; women can only beg and beg. The film is riveting, upsetting, occasionally funny, and, sadly, very true.

Viviane (played by co-writer/director Ronit Elkabetz) wants a divorce; her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) doesn’t. That’s it. As Viviane points out to the three rabbis presiding as judges, if this were America, once a husband misses two court appointments, he loses; the divorce is hers. Not in Israel, apparently, where Elisha can toy with the legal system over and over without penalty. He drags the proceedings out into several torturous years, dragging us along with them every step of the way until it reaches Brazil-like absurdity. As a viewer, especially a Hollywood-trained one, you can’t help but ask “Why does she want a divorce? What brought them to this point?” To which the film replies, “It doesn’t matter.” We’re treated to snippets and hints, mostly provided by the reluctant character witnesses that get called into court over the years, but we never really know what’s going on. Part of this may be because Gett is the third film in a trilogy following this strained couple, and the filmmakers might be assuming their audience knows the answer already.

Ronit Elkabetz and Simon Abkarian in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Ronit Elkabetz and Simon Abkarian in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

But let’s take a different stance, and say that the omission is a purposeful one, since, by denying you the gossip you’re most hungry for, it drives its point home: it’s not about people, it’s about systems. It’s about the fact that a woman should have as much a right to end a marriage as a man, yet she doesn’t. Gett is a ballsy head-on attack, and the rich, insightful script works brilliantly. Yes, you empathize with Viviane, who is clearly at her wit’s end. When she is denied a divorce time and time again, you’re as angry as she is at a system that leaves a person feeling violated and helpless. But you also feel for Elisha, a strong, stubborn man who, while he has clearly made his wife suffer, is also a victim of the very religious philosophy that enslaves Viviane. The dogmatic Judaic rules that have governed Elisha’s life from birth, the social and familial pressures… is it any wonder that Elisha acts the way he acts? As his brother, Shimon (Sasson Gabai), eloquently advocates, Elisha wants what any good Jewish husband wants: a dutiful wife, a home with children. Who can blame him for hanging onto the marriage, even if it’s an empty sham? It’s what he’s been raised to believe since birth. Once proud and silent, Elisha ends up weak and afraid, while Viviane never wavers from her goal. Gett subtly suggests that the enemy you can see is less ominous than the enemy you don’t even realize is there.

The three bonus interviews and making-of featurette provide insight into this unique sister-brother writing/directing team’s working methods. The fact that this trilogy is inspired by their mother’s strong character, the reasoning behind having their main characters speak three different languages, and the revelation that every shot in Gett represents a character’s point of view all serve to enrich this already-brilliant film.

Buy or Rent Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.