"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Gett - The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Gett - The Trial of Vivane Amsalem is directed by Ronit and Shlomi Alkabetz.  Produced as an extremely minimalist courtroom drama, this is a film that portrays a critical look at the patriarchal society, still alive and well , as seen within the Israeli rabbinical establishment.  In order to get a bill of divorce in Israel, a couple must apply to the rabbinical courts which hold authority in all areas dealing with personal status.  These rabbinical courts are run by ultra-orthodox rabbis, not always insensitive, but certainly limited in their world view.  The film shows how much the woman suffers in these courts which, according to Jewish law (halachah) give all the power to the man in granting a bill of divorce (gett).  In fact, in the film, the rabbinical court judges are portrayed as totally insensitive toward women, even to the point of emotional cruelty.
Ronit and Shlomi Alkabetz are a sister and brother team who have made a trilogy dealing with the Moroccan Jewish community in Israel -- already in Shiva(2008), we see that Viviane desperately wants a divorce from her cruel and manipulative husband.  In this new film, Gett, Viviane is fighting for her dignity as she petitions the court over a five-year period.  Although the couple has not lived together for many years, the court's first inclination is to insist that the wife return to the husband's household, even though he is obviously cold, cruel, domineering and manipulative towards her.   
This film, the third in the trilogy, adds another hard-hitting criticism.  Through the witnesses that it brings to the courtroom, the film expresses criticism against traditional Moroccan Jews who live a religious and old-fashioned  way of life, which is extremely restrictive for women. It portrays marriages without love and wives who are dominated by their traditional husbands. However, the film's criticism of this community is perhaps a bit too stereotypical.
The film was awarded first prize in the competition for best Israeli feature film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, just a few months ago.  Here are the jury remarks --
"Modern societies take for granted that one loves freely and stops loving freely. Yet, as the remarkable movie by Shlomi & Ronit Elkabetz suggests, that freedom is denied to women in modern Israel by the rabbinical tribunals.  If cinematographic tradition has made us used and even tired of seeing love as the sole and ultimate object of desire, Viviane Amsalem, the central character of this story desires  the opposite of love: she passionately desires a  Gett or the religious Jewish act of divorcing which can only be granted by a man to a woman. In a very convincingly and beautifully crafted script,  Vivianne desires to stop being the object of a man’s desire. But this passionate desire for stopping to be the object of desire of a man who will not set her free, meets with the resistance of powerful and invisible social machinery made of the various men who control her life and that of the women who appear in front of the tribunal court.  The movie represents a stunning twist on the genre of courtroom drama as it shows the subtle continuity between the court judges and the structure of the patriarchal family.  As the emotionally intense and restrained performance of Menashe Noy  [as the courtroom lawyer petitioning for the claimant] suggests, this powerful social machinery  is defeated not so much by the force of the better argument or by justice but by the relentless attack on a system determined to subdue the feelings and desires of women.  Shlomi & Ronit Elkabetz bring here to a conclusion their superb trilogy on the Israeli-Moroccan community, never romanticizing them, never yielding to any facile political reductionism. This is art at its best."

The film is available from Films Distribution.

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