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Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Wow. I’m a little late to the game on this one, and I almost let it slip by. Fortunately, I got to it…because it’s one of 2015’s best films. And it’s collection of actor close-ups that barely leaves one room. A courtroom. For an Israeli divorce hearing. And it’s absolutely fascinating, and frustrating, watching this process unfold…and stop. Unfold…and stop. And so on. “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” utilizes Hebrew, Arabic, and French language–and it’s all talk, so there’s plenty of subtitles to read. But it’s a perfectly paced and directed domestic drama. And Ronit Elkabetz, as Viviane, not only gives a superb performance in the film–but she co-wrote and co-directed with her brother, Shlomi Elkabetz. Kudos to them both.

Viviane (a wonderful Ms. Elkabetz) and Elijah Amsalem (the very solid Simon Abkarian) are married immigrants from Morocco to Israel. Viviane feels that they are long past the point of compatibility–after many years of marriage, and the raising of a number of children–so she seeks a divorce. One problem, though. Elijah refuses to grant her one. And the process of Gett (a Jewish religious divorce), can be an arduous one. So, before a panel of three judges, Elijah has to be convinced to grant one to his estranged wife. And despite Viviane’s sober explanations (and eventual pleading), the judges insist that the decision on the dissolution of the marriage is up to the husband. So, they keep returning to the courtroom multiple times over the course of months…and even years.

It’s inevitable that critics will compare an actress being shot in extreme closeups, with the legendary performance of Maria Falconetti in Carl Dreyer’s masterful 1928 silent “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. I’ve read it more than once concerning Ms. Elkabetz’s work here–and I suppose it’s fair. In fact, in this case, it appears intentional on the part of the filmmakers. It’s a fine choice, as Viviane Amsalem is continually tortured by the repetition of a virtual “fire”. The study of Ms. Elkabetz’s face is a marvelous task, and she proves completely up to the challenge. It’s subtle and excacting work.The acting of the main, and supporting, players is uniformly excellent, with special mention given to Menashe Noy as Viviane’s lawyer, Carmel Ben-Tovin, as well as Sasson Gabai, as Elijah’s older brother, Shimon. Make certain that you get to “Gett”. It plays like a theatre piece, but it’s a fascinating film triumph.

Grade: A

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