Gett: The Trial of Vivane Amsalem Pulls Back Curtain on Israeli Divorce

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Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, is a film that makes you want to talk to the movie screen. The phenomena took co-director/co-writer Shlomi Elkabetz and his sister, co-director/co-writer and the film's star Ronit Elkabetz, by surprise when they premiered the film at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

Speaking via phone from Los Angeles, the brother of the Israeli filmmaking duo says, "When we first showed the film in Cannes, we were completely shocked how strong the initial reaction of the audience was throughout the film. We were sitting there, and people were talking to the screen, and also in different screenings, when Vivianne says something, people applaud."

See also: Review and showtimes for Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

This is the final film in a trilogy that the filmmakers began over a decade ago. It's the climax of Viviane's decision to ask for a divorce, or a gett in Hebrew, from her devout husband. In Israel, divorce is less a trial and more of a ceremony. They are closed-door affairs arbitrated by three rabbis. Tradition dictates that a woman is the property of her husband, and no divorce can be granted without his full consent.

The central conflict in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is that Viviane's husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) refuses to grant the divorce. Viviane's wish for the divorce is simple and meaningful: she does not love her husband. The movie, which is two hours long, unfolds almost entirely in a courtroom, and yet it's one of the most gripping movies of the year. Elkabetz says the film, which won Israel's Ophir Award for Best Film (the equivalent of an Oscar) and was also nominated for a Golden Globe, has taken his country by storm. It's still showing in theaters in Israel after opening last September.

"The first few weeks you couldn't get a ticket to see the film," says Elkabetz. "I think it was for a few reasons. Some people liked the trilogy and they liked the characters, and they wanted to see the film. But then all the newcomers were curious because in Israel the divorce courts are all closed. You cannot go and see a trial, so people who didn't get a divorce never went to these courts. So that was like the first time the Israeli public or the public in general could see a divorce."

Besides an intense drama, the film also stands as a feminist argument for empowerment in a patriarchal society. The co-director said he and his sister never set out to make a statement with Gett, but the movie had a life of its own. "I think the film created in Israel, a movement by itself. It brought up a subject that nobody dealt with, a very painful subject that thousands and thousands of women are suffering from," Elkabetz reveals. "Today, if you ask most of the people in Israel about the subject, they will have an opinion. This may be the first very important step to a change ... In that sense Gett broke a wall, and as a filmmaker it's an extremely important experience because this is the place where art meets life and life meets art and they talk. It's very interesting for me and Ronit."

He hopes that something good will come of their film, that it will further the conversation about women's rights in Israel and strike a chord with rabbis on both the right and the left. A group of rabbis in Elkabetz's native country recently viewed the film, "That's like something incredible," he says. "They're going to see the court for the first time from the point of view of a woman."

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem opens at O Cinema Miami Beach and Coral Gables Art Cinema Friday, February 27. On Saturday, February 28, noted film scholar and author Annette Insdorf will introduce the 6:30 p.m. screening at Gables Art Cinema. For more information, visit gablescinema.com.

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