There are certain movies that as a Western Woman I have a very difficult time getting through. This isn’t because of the film itself, but my utter rage at the subject matter. In Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem, directed by brother and sister team ( Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz ), an Israeli woman desperately looks for relief from her husband with a divorce. The Hebrew term for divorce is, Gett. The film is currently nominated for a Golden Globe for best Foreign Film, and it deserves the attention.
For two hours we watch as Viviane does everything that the religious-based divorce court of Israel tells her to do, and for two hours watch as the system fails her. Though not physically abused, Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) has been subject to both verbal abuse and manipulative behavior on the part of her husband. Viviane is not a weak woman. She is a popular hairdresser and makes her own wages. She lives on her own in the back of her sister’s home, still daily making meals for her son and having them delivered by family to her estranged husband’s home. She holds herself well, but as the trial continues we see how far she is pushed. For nearly 5 years Viviane goes to the courts with her lawyer, Carmel ( Menashe Noy). For five years she sees the court refuse to force her husband to appear, refuse to force him to make a decision, use his brother as a lawyer, and (even as it finally seems her husband is willing to relent) let him weasel out of a decision. The court listens to witnesses who support the husband, but throw out female witnesses for Viviane’s defense. The trial rapidly becomes about whether Viviane is a good woman and good wife, rather than a disolving of a marriage contract. In fact, the only way her husband, Elisha Ansalem (Simon Abkarian) will allow a divorce is if Viviane promises to never take another man into her bed. I’m not kidding.
The film is bleak, taking place entirely with one courtroom set. The courtroom looks like an office with a tall desk, seated with three rabbi’s and a court reporter. The filming is often up close and more than once a shot will focus on the face of Viviane, Elisha, or the witnesses for an extended time period that is nearly painful for the audience. The film is powerful in it’s portrayal of an Israeli divorce court and even more powerful on the subject of religious prejudice against women in other countries. Ronit Elkabetz is absolutely brilliant, showing the difficulties of maintaining a strength despite having nearly everyone against you. In one particular scene, she takes her hair down from a bun while sitting in the court room. The Rabbi in charge of her case refuses to proceed until she puts her hair back up, forcing both Viviane and the audience to look at the situation with shock and wonder how a woman’s hair can cause such a fiery reaction while Elisha’s constant absences do not.
As stated before, as a white Anglo Saxon Middle Class American Woman, I lost my mind a little bit watching this film. When Viviane exclaims that in America she could have a divorce in a year, not five, I cheered for her. When her sister stood up for her, I thought maybe the court would finally listen to reason. When the film continued to go on with Viviane thwarted at every turn, I realized that the message was going out to women across the world that this can no longer be the status quo for women in other parts of the world.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem is a difficult film to watch, but an incredibly important one in the realm of Women’s Rights.
Gett opens in Los Angeles and New York on February 13, 2014. It opens nationwide shortly thereafter.