"GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" Review


“GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” is a French-Israeli film that takes place in only two rooms, each with blank white walls lit by fluorescent lights. There are no special effects, or mind-bending plot twists. In fact, “GETT” is just dialogue and nothing more. It is also the most complex film I have seen in the past year.

            The film takes place in Israel and explores the trial of a woman named Viviane Amsalem played by Ronit Elkabetz. The story is quite simple: Viviane wants a divorce from her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian). Unfortunately, this is no easy task for a woman living in Israel. For a divorce to be finalized in a religious court, the man must give his consent and the woman can only plead her case.

            One would assume that the film has a major conflict marked by a scandalous husband refusing his wife a divorce, but in “GETT” this is not the case at all. Elisha is a good husband by all definitions. He is an honest man, he provides for his family, he is a devout Jew, and he is also very flexible with his wife's desires. Viviane is a good wife. She has raised two beautiful and trustworthy children, she is loyal to her husband, yet through all of this she is unhappy and wants a divorce. As the film paces along and small tidbits of information are collected through hearing after hearing, the root of the conflict becomes clearer.

Elisha is a traditional Jew, and his vision of a good marriage falls in line with what his society values as a good marriage. Viviane’s ideal marriage clearly does not fall in line with what Elisha believes, and throughout the film she never really tells us her perfect situation.

            What is made undeniably clear is that the two are “incompatible”. They simply do not get along. This is thoroughly outlined as the depositions get more and more intense within the court.

The trial ultimately boils down to religious marriage versus independent marriage. One has tangible objectives like noble children and a specific role for the wife in the household. The other is more geared toward personal pleasure and happiness.  The impossible question is which type of marriage is the “right” one. The reality is that all people fall somewhere on a spectrum and you really can’t group all marriages into one category or the other. And it is always very hard to characterize a marriage as “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong”.

Going into the theater I thought that I would be seeing an intense movie about how women are mistreated in a country closely aligned in the United States. I was prepared for some strong feminist undertones and a vivid statement at the end. However, “GETT” really wasn’t about feminism or the mistreatment of women. It was about marriage and the grounds on which one should be broken. For all the flash and intricate plots that constantly stream out of Hollywood, sometimes the most compelling films are the most simple. What really matters? “GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” seeks to answer this question regarding an institution that affects each and every one of us.