Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Unhappy marriage might be the most common human experience of injustice. In Gett, an Orthodox Jewish Israeli woman (Ronit Elkabetz) seeks a divorce without official permission from her husband (Simon Abkarian), which the law requires. Her only recourse is to probe the depths of absurd intransigence, spending the better part of five years in a stifling rabbinical courtroom. That the movie abbreviates this ordeal to 115 minutes may or may not seem like a mercy. It is a brilliant touch that even as testimony accumulates from various witnesses, all we know about the husband with any empirical certainty is that he refuses the divorce. The film makes an effective practice of rigorously subjective camera angles, with characters unseen except when looked at by other characters. On this score, great faces go a long way. Suffering and enduring scrutiny with exquisite cinematic purity, like Dreyer’s Joan of Arc, Elkabetz is possessed not just of uncommon intensity but also the wit to deploy it ironically: The real, nearly perverse thrill of Gett is in how totally she commands a film about her own character’s powerlessness. Importantly, she also wrote and directed it, with her brother Shlomi, as the last part of a trilogy which also includes 2004’s To Take a Wife and 2008’s Seven Days. To do this as merely a rant against infuriatingly patriarchal religious law would be too easy; it’s also, most impressively, a serious and sometimes humorous, and even compassionate, consideration of spousal responsibility.