Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
Directed by Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz
Starring Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Menashe Noy, Gabi Amrani and Dalia Beger
The trial story of Viviane Amsalem's five year fight to obtain her divorce in front of the only legal authority competent for divorce cases in Israel, the Rabbinical Court.
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★★★★★ review by Anthony Le on Letterboxd
Part of Essential Films To Watch
"He hates me, Your Honor. All he wants now is to see me unhappy. Until he sees me torn apart, on my knees, he won't be satisfied. And even that won't be enough."
I dare to say it, Gett, the Trail of Viviane Amsalem is a modern masterpiece. It may not have very much footing right now, but in time, Gett will be regarded as a classic film. Everything from the acting to the cinematography is done to perfection, and the story is undeniably intriguing. It's hard to think that a divorce drama could be interesting for the full 115 minute runtime, but it is nothing but that. I found myself engaged, and felt as if I knew these characters personally. Yes, Gett does favor the perspective of Vivane Amsalem, but that's ultimately what makes the film so interesting. An objective viewpoint on the story would've been boring - instead, the audience finds themselves rooting for a woman who's passionate about what she wants, but isn't afforded the right to make the decision, purely because she's a woman.
As much as I loevd Marion Cotilliard in Two Days, One Night, I believe Ronit Elkabetz's performance was the best foreign performance of the year. This is a woman of many talents, as she also directs the film. What a powerhouse combination - she writes, stars in and directs this film. Which, I think, is probably why the film felt so passionate about its subject. This is a film that Elkabetz is passionate about, and that shows with this film. Everything from gender equality to effectiveness of religious courts, Elkabetz is out to make a statement, and she definitely does. Gett is definitely a powerful film - one riddled with suffering, pain and adversities. Yet, Viviane perseveres. And it's almost liberating seeing her work endlessly for 5 years to attempt her husband to allow her the divorce.
The screenplay for this film is at times poetic, and at times genuinely humorous. But more importantly, it ensures that the characters are humane enough for the audience to relate with them. And I admit, there are times you feel sympathetic for the husband as well, because his rationale isn't based off of hatred, but rather, love. Though, I'm not condoning his actions, because they're absolutely atrocious, subjecting Viviane to years of uncertainty and hardships. But the screenplay cleverly keeps the character humane by keeping the audience humane, making them feel at home with these characters. Gett isn't a film that hammers down the idea that Viviane is always right, it shows that ultimately, like any human, she has moments of weakness. Yet, the passion in the screenplay coupled with the endearing performance from Elkabetz on screen allows for a symphony of poetic elements which only amplifies the importance of Viviane's journey.
Altogether, Gett is definitely an amazing film. And, though i'm in the minority here, I believe it is the closest I've seen a film reach perfection in a long time. Among the Hollywood comedies and the action films, at the center of Downtown Calgary lies a theatre called The Globe Cinema. There, both Leviathan and Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem are playing. Right now, this theatre is where you need to be - not seeing films like Fifty Shades of Grey or Focus. Gett hits every note the right way, and never backs away from the point it's trying to make. Ronit Elkabetz is a talented director, and what propels Gett for her is her passion on the subject. It's evident that this isn't a sketch she drew up in a week, and decided to make a film about. This is a subject she's studied and needs to discuss. And when you combine masterful acting (on all fronts, not only Elkabetz), a humane screenplay, beautiful cinematography and very intriguing characters, you get Gett: a modern classic that's shouldn't be overlooked.
★★★★½ review by Savannah Oakes on Letterboxd
”Everyone is on trial.”
I have been aching for sibling directors, Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s, film Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem since I heard it raved by friends and peers of mine at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) what feels like ages ago. Asian cinema is not my expertise but Middle Eastern cinema is beginning to take up quite a bit of room in my heart. Asghar Farhadi was my entrance into that world with his devastating film A Separation. Slowly I’m making my way in with two Kiarostami’s under my belt (Taste of Cherry and Close-Up). It’s gotten to the point where when film festivals come a knocking I immediately search to see what Middle Eastern cinema I can get my hands on out of fear that I may not get the chance to see it again. Just last year I only had a chance to see one film at CIFF--an Israeli film Barash--about a teenage girl’s romantic, sexual relationship with another teenage girl. The themes and ideas that are explored through all of their different cultures and societies are captivating and feel, as you watch them, like a privilege as we Westerners are often both ignorant or unable to grasp certain facets of their everyday life--even aspects that seem so similar to our own.
In that same vein I am happy to admit that “Middle Eastern Divorce Dramas” are slowly becoming my new favorite film sub-genre. Gett follows the titular Viviane as she petitions over many years to get a divorce from the husband she cannot bear to stay with. The film is set almost entirely in one room--certainly in one location. It boasts a spectacular cast all of which give way more than they are demanded with humor and conviction.
This humor and truth seeking is mirrored in the direction and composition of the film. The film lets us in as an outsider. We understand the context of the narrative--the divorce--but as we are taken through the room Viviane is not seen. She is blocked by the man representing her. As the scene continues we see the three male judges and her husband. Still no Viviane. We see parts of her. We know she’s there but she is nothing but the words the men around her have spoken. This introduction to Viviane does more to reflect her frustration and desire for freedom than anything.
As the narrative unfolds and we witness the events taking place in the courtroom month after month, the directors show their true gifts. Their ability to make each scene feel like a new day, as it is meant to, is pure gift. It reflects a new tone stemming from a realization, a recent transgression or something that has yet to be revealed. The camera is mostly stagnate but gives the effect that it is weaving between people even when it continues to produce barrier after barrier--behind pillars, bodies, chairs. The camera is reflective, considerate, patient but most importantly searching. At times it feels more like the judge the film deserves than the three laid out in front of the proceeding--sometimes it’s even more revelatory than the lawyers peeling back the narrative. At the same time the camera does not overpower the story. Each give and take a little providing excitement at each obstacle.
The film plays around with humor despite the subject matter. The various witnesses that arise usually start off the same way most important and formal interactions do: they begin with humor and polite exchanges to loosen the room. However, as the interrogations go further in search of the truth, it is clear that behind these comical facades and niceties are people of deep feeling and protectiveness for their loved ones, themselves and their cultures which, as the film depicts, do not always interact the way they wish they would or interact for than they should.
The weight of the film rests on Viviane’s back who, despite the occasionally distanced and unbiased filmmaking, is the protagonist. The camera gives the other characters their private moments but it is her the audience waits patiently to return to. This is partly because Ronit Elkabetz is hard to look away from. Her face bears the weight of a thousand lives as if she carries the burden of hundreds if not thousands of years of suffering and mistreatment afforded to women like her. She emits this pain with a beautiful control and certainty that creates trust and respect early. Of course she does all this while also co-directing the film. I have already looked for more of Ronit Elkabetz’ work and was terribly upset to learn that she died last year. I was happy, however, to see she left such a legacy behind her and if this film was all there was that would be just as much a legacy itself.
This legacy is not one centered around the gimmick of the almost one room set-up, nor the seamlessness of the camerawork and the narrative nor the courageous performance but instead on their ability to rehash and give life to age old arguments. These arguments do not simply question the present state of women’s rights or religious freedom but instead investigate the history. It doesn’t blasphemy or take down the institutions that are often blamed for these issues. They use their religion--which ultimately is their culture more than in the Western world--to help find meaning and solution in their circumstances. A character very wisely posits: “Everyone is on trial.” Although we are with Viviane we cannot discredit the people around her and their stakes and beliefs. It reminds us that we are all witnesses. It is as much an indictment of the stubborn husband as it is a taming of the shrew. It’s all about which investments you make until the hammer has to come down and give the last deciding word. Ultimately it reminds us that, no matter what higher power, law or person we feel we must answer to, a lot can go a long way through honest and unselfish communication and unconditional love for the people around us. We are all witnesses--not because we are in the world to poke at and criticize one another. We are all witnesses because we are all accountable for one another.
*Note* Hello friends! Sorry I’ve been kind of awol. School started up for me--last year of undergrad--and it is way busier than usual. That being said all I wish I was doing was watching movies but instead I am helping make them right now. This is a whole different animal but that’s film school--most of you get it or will soon if that is the path you are choosing. Anyways I just wanted to say thanks for sticking around. Writing about films is something I love to do and I hope you will be patient--if you even care--if my reviews aren’t as frequent. Much love--Savannah
★★★½ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd
Having now seen all three films, my assessment is as follows: (a) Gett works perfectly fine without any knowledge of its predecessors; and (b) it's even more potent if you've seen To Take a Wife, which provides a deeper understanding of the emotional cruelty Elisha has inflicted without doing anything that a rabbinical court would recognize as "wrong." (This does come across in Gett, thanks to Simon Abkarian's coldly smug performance, but it's still helpful to see the domestic nightmare in action.) Early, largely procedural scenes, with the action leaping ahead a few months every few minutes, are more effective than the lengthy cross-examination of witnesses that takes precedence later on, and the nonstop POV shots kinda drove me nuts after a while—especially because Elkabetz, when she's visible, is an endless font of subtly sublime silent reactions. At a certain point, the film seems to be spinning its wheels, above and beyond the extent to which that's the whole point. Conclusion is heartbreaking, though, and the film's sole, fleeting glimpse of the outside world cuts deep.
★★★★ review by Vincent Lao on Letterboxd
Raw, unflinching, and infuriating—Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem provides an expertly-crafted microcosm of a woman holding herself against a patriarchal society. Sibling directors Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz intricately tells a story of an Israeli woman seeking divorce (gett) from her reluctant husband that spanned for five years. Instead of having both parties to consent divorce in other countries, the process is relied on just the husband’s full consent; as a result, the film exposes the infuriating truth about Israel’s religiously-based divorce system.
It’s truly a man’s man’s world for Viviane. Set in a courtroom and shot intimately with its characters, the film creates a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere for the characters and the audience. It’s an effective element in which making the implausible plausible, as also brought by its amazing and meticulous screenplay. There’s some hidden shots of humor which is quite unpredictable. Yet the film’s main highlight is its powerful, restrained acting from its cast. Actress-director Ronit Elkabetz who played Viviane is commanding in a restrained kind of performance. Her inner torment shot in close-ups and bursts are truly haunting to watch. Surrounding her are brilliant company of actors (Simon Abkarian, Menasheh Noy, and Sasson Gabay) who all gave resounding supporting performances. Ultimately, Viviane’s story is an eye-opener and an inspiring one for every woman who faced belittlement in oppressive societies led by men.
★★★★½ review by Varghese Eapen on Letterboxd
Marriage is not a cakewalk.So tread carefully. If you are not sure of your partner there is no point in taking a plunge. Not since A Separation has the dynamics between a husband and wife knocked me out stone cold. The passiveness shown by the husband is downright scary. Come to think of it,the court room genre is the only genre where the truth is revealed,but how do we know what and who is actually telling the truth? Who is the actual guilty party? The director depicts the powerless side of the judiciary which is caught up in it's age old myriads of conservatism. For a serious subject there is a surprising amount of humorous undertones. Packed with uniformly strong performances this is hands down one of the year's best.
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