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'Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem' review: A suspenseful and anger-fueled feature

Ronit Elkabetz plays the role of Viviane Amsalem

Ronit Elkabetz plays the role of Viviane Amsalem in the movie "Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem." Credit: Music Box Films

"Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" is an improbably exhilarating and anger-fueled feature directed by the film's star, Ronit Elkabetz, and her brother, Shlomi, about a woman's arduous impossible trek through the Israeli divorce court -- a theocratic realm where any attempt to mete out justice is hamstrung by theology and sexism and where a not-yet-ex-husband has more power than the judge.

"Know your place, woman!" -- which might have been the title, actually -- is barked from the bench at the film's title character (Elkabetz), a woman trying to free herself from the man who's been making her miserable for most of her life. He's Elisha Amsalem (Simon Akbarian), with whom Viviane has borne four children and 30 years of rage, and who won't give her the "gett" -- an agreement/permit to divorce, which under Israel's rabbinical courts is given at the discretion of the husband. Elisha's reason? He doesn't need one.

"Gett" is basically a chamber piece -- the chamber being the claustrophobic courtroom, a cauldron of rage and cruelly protracted proceedings. One would lose track of how much time, and life, is wasted -- as Elisha ignores one summons after another, assumes an intractable stance toward his increasingly embittered wife and does so with little interference from the three Solomons before them. If the subtitles didn't tell us: "Three months later," "two months later" "three months later" -- five years goes by before the film ends, and whether actual justice is meted out is never really a question.

The film is not without a certain degree of levity -- the witnesses called to testify about Viviane and Elisha's hellish marriage are either zany, inept liars or comically hypocritical. But the dominant emotion roiling under "Gett" is Viviane-level rage, directed at the fact that women are treated like this under an ostensible democracy where there are no civil marriages or civil divorces and where matrimony is officially recognized as a form of enslavement.

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