From A World To Win News Service

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem – a film review

October 13, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


October 6, 2014. A World to Win News Service. The following article by Sima Tavakoli appeared in issue number 34 of Atash, a communist print monthly and weblog in Iran. The Israeli-French-German production premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last spring, and since then has been screened at other film festivals in Europe, North America, and Israel. It is currently in theatrical release in France, to be followed by Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. The video will be available in December.

With dialogue in Hebrew, French, and Arabic, it is one of a trilogy of films by the Israeli filmmakers Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz said to be based on the character of their mother.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

It's important to note that the name of this film is not just Divorce (Gett, in Hebrew), but Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem. It is about what is effectively, if not formally, the trial of a woman who has dared ask for a divorce and initiate a five-year painful legal process when her husband refused. In Israel, civil laws do not apply to marriage, divorce and other family matters. Instead they are governed by religious law and courts. [If one of the partners is not Jewish, or not considered Jewish by the Orthodox rabbis, they cannot marry in Israel.] Women cannot divorce. It is up to the husband to decide to divorce or not to divorce his wife, following a strict procedure that is highly demeaning to women. This repressive insult is powerfully exhibited in this film by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz.

After 15 years of marriage, Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) formally files for divorce. She wants to be legally free. Before going to court she had already left the husband and was living with her brother's family. The religious court is chaired by three elderly rabbis with full beards, kippahs and traditional Orthodox black jackets and white shirts. They seem harsh and unbending. Viviane's lack of love for her husband Elisha Anslem (Simon Abkarian) and her demand to end their marriage is not sufficient for the religious judges. She must prove that her husband regularly beats her or he is sexually impotent. But these are not Viviane's problems, and this is why the court procedure turns into a trial of Viviane for daring to demand to be free of a repressive relationship that has no love in it.

The proceedings cannot start without the presence of the husband. Using various pretexts Elisha refuses to present himself in court. He uses his power to delay the court in order to wear out his wife and force her to withdraw her divorce request. [This is a not uncommon tactic Israeli men use to delay or prevent divorce, often as a conscious act of revenge, and/or to extort child custody and other favors.]

The next court session is delayed again and again – for two months, six months and so on…New subtitles inform the film audience of each new date, but the scenes are always the same: the white walls, the empty rooms of the court, the rabbis' frustration and their anger at the woman and her lawyer who present themselves in the absence of the man and waste the court's time.

When finally Elisha enters the courtroom, with a heavy silence and a meaningful stare at Viviane, one after another people close to him give evidence of his gentle behaviour. The rabbis grill women who seem to want to testify in support of Viviane, and one is thrown out of the courtroom.

Viviane's witnesses give evidence of her integrity and decency, but legally that is of no consequence. In any case, Elisha has the last word – he refuses to divorce her.

All the film's scenes take place in the courtroom, a claustrophobic room with white walls. The men wear black clothing, as do the women, with a few exceptions. There is no colour and no space. This repressive environment is magnified by repeated close-ups, reminding viewers that Viviane’s life is like a prison. Humorous incidents during testimony make the cruelty and harshness depicted in the film tolerable and at the same time more effective. The actors and actresses play their roles beautifully. Ronit Elkabetz is always convincing, whether silent or at the height of rage. Simon Abkarian says little except, "I will not divorce," but his body language is sufficiently telling. Viviane's lawyer Carmel (Menashe Noy) is clearly fascinated by her client's determination and tries to get around the religious court. All this was skillfully written and directed by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz.

Viviane does not wear her hair covered, but she often appears with it tightly tied up behind her head. Once, when under the pressure of hopelessness she starts fidgeting with her hair and it flows down, her judges accuse her of indecent behaviour. With the exception of her garb, the rest is not much different from Iran. The same laws dictated by a centuries-old religion, the same rigid ideas, the same hatred for women, the same feelings of desperation and powerlessness. In thinking of Viviane, I remembered the film Divorce Italian Style and the domination of religion on our life, what religion has done to us and how important and urgent it is to get rid of it.

(Under the pressure of the Catholic Church, divorce was not possible in Italy until 1970. Divorce Italian Style, a 1961 Italian comedy by Pietro Germi, shows that if the Church refused to annul the marriage, requiring much influence, money, and hypocrisy, the only way out in Italy at that time was to kill one's spouse.)

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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