“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” is the story of an Israeli woman (Ronit Elkabetz) seeking a divorce (gett) from her estranged husband (Simon Abkarian). Instead, she finds herself put on trial by her country’s conservative religious court system.
The film, written and directed by Elkabetz and her brother Shlomi, is a clear indictment of the tight control the rabbinical courts exert over the lives of Israelis, and of women in particular. Israel has no civil marriage. Rabbis are the only ones who can officiate at weddings and grant divorces. Making matters worse, the dissolution of a marriage is only possible with full consent from the husband.
“The failure of the rabbinical courts is that they don’t take women’s rights into account,” Shlomi Elkabetz told the audience after TheWrap Awards Season Screening Series presentation of the film at iPic Theaters in Westwood on Monday. “It’s all about power and politics and who gets the last word.”
In “Gett,” set entirely inside a courtroom, Viviane pleads with the judge to force her husband, Elisha, whom she no longer loves, to grant her a divorce. But her husband refuses to sign the papers.
“Elisha has become somebody he doesn’t know,” Abkarian said. “He has to change but he doesn’t know how to do it.”
Viviane’s fight for her freedom is a modern-day tragedy bordering on the absurd. No matter how many times she tells the judge she simply doesn’t love her husband, the court won’t grant her a divorce.
“When are you going to see me?” she finally asks the judge.
“Know your place, woman!”
Asked by an audience member whether the movie depicts an accurate picture of divorce proceedings in Israel, Elkabetz said yes. “There are 45,000 open cases of women who are waiting for divorce. This movie is very realistic.”
The movie is already creating buzz in Israel. Dozens of rabbinical court judges will watch the movie during an annual convention in February. The vast majority of these rabbis are ultra-Orthodox, who do not watch movies and or read mainstream papers. “Everyone is talking about it in Israel right now,” Elkabetz said. “There isn’t a day when there isn’t an article about it in the papers.”
In the past, many Israeli films have portrayed the Orthodox segments of Israeli society as romantic and exotic. “Gett” paints a bleak and picture of how stifling religious extremism can be. There is nothing remotely alluring about Viviane’s battle and the humiliation she suffers over five long years.
“There is a move in Israel to try and change into a more secular court,” Elkabetz said. “But it’s small and very weak still.”
The film is the third in a trilogy that the Elkabetz siblings based loosely on their mother’s story. The movie has already sparked a national debate in Israel about women’s rights, especially when it comes to religion.
“It’s really a phenomenon,” Elkabetz said. “It opened in Israel nine weeks ago and nobody can get tickets. Everyone argues that Viviane deserves her freedom. She should get her divorce.”
Israel’s Oscar hopeful is among a record 83 movies in the running for Best Foreign Film this year.
The film recently took the Golden Starfish Award for best narrative at the Hamptons Film Festival in New York. Elkabetz was awarded a special jury prize for outstanding performance by an actress.
In the past seven years, four Israeli movies have been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. To date, no Israeli feature film has ever won.