REVIEW: Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

9 03 2015

Gett PosterThe protagonist and heroine of “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” may have her name in the title, but that could very well be the only advantage she possesses in the film.  Take the first scene, for example.  As Viviane seeks a divorce in court from her husband Elisha, all the other participants mention her several times in the first few minutes – yet she remains off-camera entirely.  Elisha even delivers a line directly to her, and he just looks right into the lens.

Brother/sister writing and directing team Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz use “Gett” as an exploration of the ways in which women are degraded and disrespected in Israeli society.  Patriarchy is not just institutionalized – it’s codified in law.  When Viviane (played by the co-writer and director Ronit) and her lawyer present their petition for separation, the three male judges deciding the future of her union clearly have no intention of really listening to what she has to say. Any intents and declarations professed by a male receive obvious privilege in their eyes.

The entire two-hour film takes place inside the walls of the courtroom, a single location conceit starts off interesting but gradually grows somewhat tiring.  Some of the fatigue sets in because, surprisingly, the Elkabetz siblings do all their table-turning on the witnesses brought in to testify.  Normally, in a courtroom drama, the audience vacillates in opinion on the plaintiff and the defendant as new evidence brings about a clearer picture of each.

Even in spite of its flaws, “Gett” still makes a compelling watch for its fierce feminism alone.  Hearing such sexist remarks as “Know your place, woman” is painful enough, but observing Viviane’s relative silence in the face of such misogyny speaks volumes – especially when compared to all the long-winded men in the room.  She usually maintains a stoic facade, occasionally captured in a long take by the camera, and rarely breaks it.

Mostly, though, Viviane is just caught quietly registering the words of all the males around her and feeling a sense of hopelessness.  What chance does she have to fight for her own happiness in a world where a man’s flimsy word is stronger than a woman’s firm willpower?  Her occasional outbreaks, forcefully and urgently argued by Ronit Elkbaetz, feel rousing and righteous as a result.  B+3stars

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