Wednesday, March 4, 2015

GETT: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem

Included the expansive category of "foreign language films that are better than Ida" comes Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem, the story of a woman trying—for years—to get a divorce from her husband. (If I understand correctly, until last year, only a religious council could grant a divorce.)

Here's a thought-provoking topic. But before we get into that, let's note that this is a very good, and in some ways very typical Israeli film. First, it's clearly shot on a shoestring budget. The whole thing takes place in a small courtroom—and when I say "courtroom", I mean something that looks like a converted high school coat closet—except for a couple of scenes which take place in the tiny rooms adjoining the courtroom.

Second, it's populated with an amusing and interesting array of characters, richly drawn, all within the confines of these tiny spaces.

Third, it tackles a serious subject—divorce—with an undeniably Jewish humans-are-flawed sense of humor which means, despite what you might think, this two hour movie about divorce delivers more laughs than Kevin James' last couple of films.

This movie is, at heart, a mystery. We don't know why Viviane wants the divorce. We don't know why Elisha won't grant it. Over two hours we get a picture of the two that reveals bits-and-pieces, and raises the question "Whose business is it anyway?"

And there's the rub: In America, of course, we have "no-fault" divorce, which is great for individual freedom, but pretty rotten for the institution of marriage. Should it be enough for a person to say, "No, I can't live with that other person"? Or should there have to be some reason, some specific terrible act or pattern of neglect?

The rabbis here need cause. They're already inclined to say "Go home and make it work" which is wiser than it might seem to us these days. But "My husband is stubborn" isn't really going to cut it. We see some other marriages, too, in the form of witnesses. They're not perfect, not by a long shot, but they seem to be doing okay. (Maybe. Who knows, really?)

Anyway, the movie takes on the challenge, and doesn't flinch. Nor does it judge, especially, although Elisha ultimately comes off worse than Viviane, who was probably too young (15) to get married in the first place. But we have sympathy all around, for our fellow humans trying to get by.

Terrific performance by Ronit Elkabetz, whom I haven't seen since 2007's The Band's Visit. Her co-star in that film, Sasson Gabai, who played the crusty Arab that didn't get her, plays her husband's counsel/brother here.

Ronit also directed with her brother Shlomi.

This picture cleaned up at the Israeli Film Academy Awards, though it lost the Golden Globe and was not even nominated for an Oscar.

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