Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only few critics have seen and shines some
light on it.
Divorce has become more and more common over time, but it becomes a far more difficult matter in overtly patriarchal societies. That’s the subject of “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” the latest film from the Israeli brother-sister directing team of Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz. Ronit stars as Viviane, a woman seeking divorce from her husband (Simon Akbarian), who’s less than enthused about granting her one — which, under Israeli law, he must. Without one, according to Orthodox Jewish custom, he may remarry, but she will remain “chained,” unable to start her life anew. The whole film takes place in a drab, nondescript courthouse over the period of several months, in which Viviane tries, with great difficulty, to convince the men judging her that she deserves her separation.
It’s a simple story, but the Elkabetzes turn it into a compelling, often heartrending drama. With little more than carefully-selected POV shots that place the judges higher than Viviane, they convey the sense that it’s an uphill battle for her and for any woman fighting for independence in restrictive societies. More remarkable, however, is the fact that none of the antagonists, be they the judges or Viviane’s stubborn husband, are seen as cut-and-dried monsters, but as men who are simply a part of a difficult world. With that, “Gett” becomes a humane but powerful melodrama.
This setup might remind viewers of Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s awards-bedecked drama “A Separation” (2011), though the story beats here are much more conventional, very “Law And Order” in how the Elkabetzes dole out surprise accusations and impassioned soliloquies whenever their narrative needs a goose. This isn’t particularly a problem considering the overall structure of the piece: Each new scene takes place weeks, if not months, after the previous one. On-screen titles mark the passage of time like journalistic datelines and the sheer moral and spiritual exhaustion of the characters becomes more and more palpable as the case drags on for an absurd length of time. This all might be laughable if it wasn’t based on the very real facts of the Israeli court system, which as portrayed here is like Kafka without the surrealist trappings. Read more.
More thoughts from the web:
Simon Abrams, Village Voice
She photographs herself through wide-angle lenses that emphasize sullen glares and faraway looks that make it seem as if Viviane’s slowly vanishing before our eyes. Ronit’s remarkable sensitivity makes “Gett” a tough but essential melodrama. Read more.
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
With her dramatically pale face framed by a voluptuous dark cloud of hair, Ms. Elkabetz is never more effective than when she’s holding still, her face so drained of emotion that it transforms into a screen within the screen on which another, indelibly private movie is playing. This stillness can be transfixing in close-up because the human face remains one of cinema’s great landscapes even if our screens are cluttered with banally framed head-and-shoulder shots. There’s nothing indifferent about the human face here, especially Viviane’s. That’s why every so often the filmmakers fill the screen with her face, allowing you to traverse its planes and trace its lines and, in the process, discover a woman who — even as she has been denied her freedom — retains a stubborn, transcendent humanity. Read more.
David Edelstein, Vulture
Time is the strongest character in “Gett.” When Elisha doesn’t show up, the trial must be postponed. Some of the onscreen titles: ONE YEAR LATER, SIX MONTHS LATER, TWO MONTHS LATER. (Godot comes, leaves.) THREE MONTHS LATER, FOUR MONTHS LATER. (Godot checks back in, wonders why it’s taking so long.) Viviane begins to unravel—but a woman who acts out in a rabbinical court risks having her case thrown to another rabbi in, say, six months or even dismissed. The audience, on the other hand, is allowed to yell, and “Gett” is a movie to make rude noises at, if only to keep from going mad. Read more.
Noel Murray, The Dissolve
“Gett” is mostly just a string of arguments in a bare room, but the Elkabetzes keep the film from feeling too stagey by making clear, conscious choices about what they show and how they show it. Viviane doesn’t appear on screen for the first time until about five minutes into the film—even though the judges and attorneys have been talking about her the whole time—because “Gett” is establishing how little a woman’s presence or opinion means to this court. The judges are often photographed from low angles to make them look more removed and imposing, and Viviane and Elisha are usually shown in profile, which is both a more striking angle visually and an indication of how the two can barely look at each other. Read more.
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
We start in a white room as lawyers and representatives discuss the matter; it’s minutes before the camera gets around to our seething heroine, Viviane (Elkabetz), a sly piece of visual diminishment. ButGett truly picks up emotional steam once you realize that we’re never going to leave that room, even as the months pass and we hear every kind of banal waffling and excuse intended to extend the process into a multiyear saga that would sap the most devoted bureaucrat. The acting, especially from Menash Noy as an ineffectual attorney, is phenomenal, resulting in a feminist knockout told in inverse. Read more.