Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem

Posted by Joel Copling on March 13, 2015

It is really very simple or, at least, should be: The wife wants a divorce. The complication comes from the world in which she lives--a world that "Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem" depicts within a confined space for the whole of its 115 minutes. The wife's name is there in the title, and she is played with quiet desperation by Ronit Elkabetz, who also co-wrote and co-directed the film with her brother Shlomi. This is a brave effort from the actress and filmmaker, focusing entirely on the words these people speak, not scored to music or even consisting of more than static shots of people addressing others and the other people answering them. For patient audiences, the rewards can be great.

Viviane's reasoning for wanting a divorce becomes, to an outsider, less about the specifics demanded of her by the council of judges (played by Eli Gornstein, Rami Danon, and Roberto Pollak) presiding over her case and more about the feeling underneath the relationship--or, in her case, lack thereof. She feels no passion from her husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian), any longer, and that's enough. He hasn't physically abused her. He hasn't denied her food or expenses. She has since moved out but is able to support herself and her children on her own working as a hairdresser. She isn't being threatened by him. She just no longer feels any connection to him and, really, hasn't since their wedding day thirty years previously.

The film isn't unconscious of his side, though. Elisha is set in traditional ways. "She is my destiny, and I am hers," says he after one of more than two changes of heart about the situation (These changes of heart become something of a running joke--but a sobered, sobering one that extends this divorce trial to more than five years). He still loves Viviane, whatever connection he has refused her over the years, and the council is only too happy to leave it in his--the man of the household, the breadwinner--hands and control. Elkabetz's screenplay with her brother doesn't villainize Elisha, which is a crucial distinction from how it does treat him (In the fairest way, it is resentful toward this sad man and his patriarchal existence).

Each of them has an advocate on their behalf. For Elisha, it is his brother Shimon (Sasson Gabai), a well-known rabbi who voices his displeasure that Viviane would contest her husband's affections like this. For Viviane, it is Carmel Ben Tovim (Menashe Noy), who may or may not fall in love with Viviane over the course of the trial (This is certainly called into question before the end); he maintains the good will of his client throughout. A series of witness is called on defendant and plaintiff behalf; some of these ancillary performances don't quite hit the mark, but the scenes are heightened emotionally nevertheless as these witnesses' credibility is called into question. "This is not a murder trial," sighs Carmel, and he's right.

Few films aspire to inspiration and achieve it; "Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem" is one of the few, despite its minor missteps. Staunchly liberal and delicately feminist in its politics (without firmly and fairly showing the other side of both platforms, mind you), this is a rage-against-the-machine movie that somehow offers subtlety and grace in its distinctly unshowy filmmaking. Elkabetz, a wonder especially in front of the camera, gives us many two-shot set-ups (each shot in each set-up quite regularly a long one, but sometimes the pattern of the shots, via editor Joelle Alexis, is akin to a metronome), which allows us to focus on the literate dialogue, which acts as our window into this examination of a relationship's inevitable, lengthy, harrowing end.

Film Information

Ronit Elkabetz (Viviane Ansalem), Simon Abkarian (Elisha Ansalem), Menashe Noy (Carmel Ben Tovim), Sasson Gabai (Rabbi Shimon), Eli Gornstein (Head Rabbi Salmion), Rami Danon (Rabbi Danino), Roberto Pollak (Rabbi Abraham).

Directed by Ronit Elkabetz and written by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz.

No MPAA rating.

115 minutes.

Released in select cities on February 13, 2015.