Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem…a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

October 23, 2014 by Roz Tarszisz
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Divorce is painful for all participants. Obtaining a gett, a Jewish divorce, is a confronting procedure, particularly for a woman.

In Israel there is no civil marriage and only rabbis can dissolve one. In a no-frills Israeli courtroom three rabbis are presiding. The plaintiff is Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz). She left her husband three years previously and lives in her sister’s backyard. Her lawyer, Carmel Ben Tovim (Menashe Noy), presents a petition for her to be granted a gett.

It takes months and many attempts just to get her reluctant husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian), to court and when he does show up, he continually refuses to grant her wish. The rabbis cannot force him and recommend that Viviane returns home for a short time to attempt reconciliation.

The procedures that Viviane endures over five years and multiple court visits seem archaic and absurd but she will not give up. Slowly the story of Viviane and Elisha’s marriage is teased out.

Friends and relatives are brought in as witnesses and most paint a picture of a devout man, good to his wife and Viviane as modest but secular in outlook. The couple are of Moroccan descent and Viviane was betrothed at 16. She has born four children and after 30 years of marriage, just wants her freedom. However she is traditional enough that she cooks Elisha’s meals and has them delivered to their family home.

While it is obvious that the rabbis believe she should return to her husband, after five years they are keen to see the back of the unhappy couple. It could be described as a case of “Enough already. Let this woman go”. There is little colour present with Viviane wearing variations on black and white.

There are moments of levity and absurdity and the sad tale is well written and acted. I was reminded of the scene in John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo when Woody Allan and Bob Balaban as his lawyer are hauled before a rabbinical court in New York. There are similarities here but that was a comedy.

It won Best Film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, 2014 and screen in Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes 2014 to critical acclaim. It has also been nominated for 14 Ophir Awards (Israeli Oscars).

Screening soon at the Jewish International Film Festival in Auckland, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. See www.jiff.com.au for dates and details

Starring Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Menashe Noy

115mins

Directed and written by Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz

French and Hebrew with English subtitles 2014

Watch the trailer:

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