Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Directed By: Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz

Starring: Ronit Elkabetz, Menashe Noy, Sasson Gabai, and Simon Abkarian

Some people just aren't meant to be together.  The blinding nature of love can have disastrous consequences.  Still, the divorce rate isn't exactly sky high in the United States, or most other countries around the globe for that matter.  As of 2011, the divorce rate stateside sits at a respectable 6.8%, but I'm certain the percentage of unsuccessful marriages is a little higher than that.  Perhaps it's because some couples stick it out in misery.  Just look to Shimon and Viviane Amsalem in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem for an example of this.

After decades of marriage, Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) wants a divorce from her husband Shimon (Sasson Gabai).  With the assistance of her lawyer Carmel Ben-Tovim (Menashe Noy), she petitions the court for just that.  There's just one problem.  Shimon doesn't show up to court for three years when summoned for the trial.  When the court threatens him with arrest, he finally does come with his brother Elijah (Simon Abkarian) as his legal advocate.  However, when Rabbis Salomon, Abraham, and Danino (Eli Gornstein, Roberto Pollak, and Rami Danon) ask Shimon whether he will grant his wife a divorce, he says no.  Not deterred, Viviane doesn't stop trying.  A long, drawn out court battle ensues in which Viviane's persistence, Shimon's stubbornness, and the court's patience are all put to the test.

The thing that stands out the most to me about Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is the minimal use of music.  I can only recall a musical selection at the end of the film at the climax.  That's a very difficult trick to pull off successfully for any filmmaker.  It means that every word that the cast members utter needs to capture and hold the audience's attention.  When this is the case, it's all about the dialogue written by the screenwriters, the way in which it's delivered by the actors, and the pacing of said dialogue set by the director.  With this in mind, directors Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz guide their cast and produce one outstanding courtroom drama.

Though it's packed with humor and boasts a rather unique premise, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is a bold move from the Elkabetz duo.  It's the type of film that requires rich acting, and that's exactly what this immensely talented cast delivers.  For her part as our titular character, Ronit Elkabetz makes it abundantly clear that Viviane does indeed go through a trial, one that emotionally torments her for years.  She gives us a character with grace and elegance but an undying tenacity and a vociferous intensity that comes to the forefront whenever she's around her husband.  Equally poignant and comedic, this showcase from Elkabetz is really one of the finer female leading performances of 2014.

For his part as Shimon, Sasson Gabai gives us a quiet yet obstinate introvert.  Gabai makes it clear that he loves his on screen wife and that he doesn't care that their starkly contrasting world views have put them on diverging paths after all this time.  He's great as this stoic, stubborn character.  For their parts as Carmel Ben-Tovim and Elijah Amsalem respectively, Menashe Noy and Simon Abkarian deliver complete opposites that gel together both dramatically and comically.  Noy is the straight man who sees this trial as the legal circus it truly is.  Meanwhile, Abkarian feeds off Noy's frustration gleefully in his bid to defy logic and keep this warring couple together.  Eli Gornstein, Roberto Pollak, and Rami Danon all deliver humorous supporting performances as the clueless judges.

Offering powerful drama and wholesome comedy, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is one foreign film not to miss.  Under the direction of Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz, this cast doesn't miss a beat.  It's a film that slowly and continuously reels viewers in as wills are put to the test.  The Israeli-French courtroom drama gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.