Rated NR. Running time: 1 hour 55 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2 and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.
In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’
Set entirely in the claustrophobic setting of a hearing chamber and its waiting room, the brother/sister team of Shlomi Elkabetz and Ronit Elkabetz focus their film upon the strenuous attempt of a woman to obtain a divorce from her unfeeling husband. With few exceptions, the Isareli government continues to allow religious groups to determine matters of marriage and divorce. For Jewish Israelis, that means submitting to male-dominated Orthodox traditions to obtain an official divorce. That has opened a cultural chasm that polls in Israel show is widening between Orthodox leaders and the many secular and progressive Jewish Israelis.
This movie is an indictment of that painful divorce process, showing how easily the process can be twisted by willful husbands and can cause years of pain to women seeking to be free of their marriages.
In Gett, the Elkabetzes show us five years in the life Viviane Amsalem, a character (played by Ronit Elkabetz) who is seeking to attain a divorce from her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian). At first he will not even show up, and the panel of three rabbis (all male of course) refuse to punish him for his contempt of the court. When he does show up, he asserts that his refusal is because he wants to take her back and start over. The series of testimonials by various witnesses, the cross examinations of the lawyers, and the comments of the panel’s head rabbi are worthy of a story by Kafka, or would have been welcomed back in the 60s by fans of the Theater of the Absurd.
Viviane has left Elisha and moved in with her family. She needs the divorce in order to get on with her life, her present status putting her in a state of limbo.
Much of the energy of the three rabbis, who are growing increasingly frustrated by this long-term case, is directed at trying to convince Viviane that she should return to her husband and become a good wife. Fortunately she is represented and sustained by her devoted counsel Carmel Ben Tovim (Menashe Noy).
As the case grinds on and on and on through the years we see the tragedy and the absurdity of allowing matters of marriage and divorce to be held hostage to religious tradition, an issue currently making headlines in the U.S., as well.
The fate of Viviane is not really satisfying, and the film ends ambiguously. But the underlying attack on patriarchy is anything but ambiguous. This is a film well worth seeking out when it leaves the art house circuit and becomes available on DVD or as a streaming video.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the May 2015 issue of Visual Parables.