Gett Justice, by Scott Nye
Liberal cinema in the U.S. often takes the form of comfort food, acknowledging the suffering we all know to be present while assuring us that someone else is taking care of it. Brother-sister directors Schlomi and Ronit Elkabetz’s Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem doesn’t quite offer the same release, but it does nonetheless take a stance it assumes from the audience and confirm their sympathies. For those not up on their Jewish Law (or who skipped A Serious Man), a get is a divorce document that a man presents a woman so that the laws of adultery no longer apply to her. The film is the third in a series featuring the titular character and her husband, the prior two showing them on the path to divorce court in Israel. I’ve not seen them, though, so I can personally attest that there’s no “catching up” to do here if you’re not feeling up to it. What I will say is that it’s a sharply funny, almost satirical look at the ridiculous extent one woman must go to live with some semblance of basic freedom.
Ronit Elkabetz pulls triple-duty, not only co-writing and -directing the film, but also playing the lead role. The entire film takes place in the courthouse, and there she sits, hearing after hearing, for five years as her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) puts up every wall he can imagine (and, as a man, he is afforded quite a few) to stubbornly insist they remain together, not because he’s any happier with the arrangement than she, but simply because to divorce is unimaginable; to allow her into the arms of another man even more so. Elkabetz plays to the frustration of the situation, in her best moments simply aghast at how little respect she is afforded. The prevailing sentiment of the court (and all her friends and family, it should be noted) is that if he doesn’t beat or cheat on her, what does she have to complain about, really?
It all makes for fairly compelling cinema, as courtroom procedurals tend to, forcing characters to dig deep within themselves to uncover the truth, however painful. But what starts out as a small issue grows into titanic proportions, as it becomes clear the Elkabetzes are happy to cater to the audience that naturally aligns with Viviane, complimenting them on an open-minded worldview they all share. This is not to say they’re wrong for holding that viewpoint, but that a more daring film would give more credence to the traditional Israeli societal establishment than simply hold it up as an object of mockery. There is, I will note, more than a small possibility this approach plays better in their home nation, and that it is simply my privilege to feel this stance so obvious.
Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem opens Friday in Los Angeles at the Royal Theatre and in New York at Lincoln Plaza.