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Film / Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

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Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (French: Gett: Le procès de Viviane Amsalem, Hebrew: גט - המשפט של ויויאן אמסלם‎ Get — Ha'mishpat shel Vivian Amsalem) is a 2014 Israeli-French film directed by and starring Ronit Elkabetz, with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz as co-director. The cast includes Simon Abkarian, Menashe Noy and Sasson Gabai. It is the third and final film of a series focusing on the unhappy marriage of Viviane Amsalem, the first being To Take a Wife and the second Shivanote , and it is also the last film of Ronit, who passed away in April 2016.

Viviane Amsalem (Elkabetz) has been married to her husband, Elisha (Abkarian), for over twenty years. She goes to a religious court, represented by Carmel ben-Tovim (Noy) in order to obtain a gett as they are living apart and she no longer wants to be married to him. Represented by his brother Shim‘on (Gabai), Elisha refuses to give it to her and does everything in his power to stop her. The court of rabbis order a trial reunion for the couple which Viviane tries to comply with.

After several attempts to comply with the order the marital discord is so severe that she insists on a separation and a Kafka-esque divorce trial ensues. Over the course of several years, Viviane struggles to obtain divorce while her husband does his best to slow the process. Both bring witnesses to testify about each side’s righteousness, and the situation gets more and more complicated from there.

This film provides examples of:

  • Against My Religion: One of the causes of tension between Elisha and Viviane is that the former is far more religious than the latter, not allowing her to go out on the Sabbath or generally enjoy herself out of the strict confines of his faith. He won’t even buy a car for fear it would be driven on the Sabbath. Carmel claims that it’s his attitude that has made Viviane hate the faith, a claim Rabbi Shim‘on mocks.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • Émile, Vivianne’s brother, goes on at length to praise Elisha as a good, honest man, saying that ‘a woman needs to be given limits’ but Elisha is too nice to do so. Carmel then asks him to reassure that both Elisha and Vivianne are fine people, before asking the obvious: whether they had a happy marriage. Émile’s confidence vanishes at once, and he sheepishly answers that it wasn’t.
    • Carmel asks Donna Abuksis, who praised both her own husband, who reins her in significantly, and Elisha, who gives Viviane a lot of personal freedom, which of the two is the ideal husband. He continues to cross her about her married life to break her out of Simon’s control over her testimony until she breaks into tears.
  • Artistic License – Law: During her "The Reason You Suck" Speech against the rabbinical courts, Viviane claims that in the US, if a man does not show up in court for his divorce proceedings three times, he is declared divorced in absentia. While there is some truth to it, her claim is fairly oversimplified.
  • Author Tract: Against the rabbinical courts in Israel.
  • Berserk Button: Rabbi Shlomo, the head of the court, does not take having his authority and objectivity challenged, especially when asked to recuse himself.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Viviane gets her divorce... after a process lasting several years, and only after swearing never to be with another man.
  • Bottle Episode: The whole film takes place in the rabbinical court.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Shimon might not be a lawyer and looks innocuous, but he unleashes a formidable combination of clever lies, insinuations and clever uses of Jewish laws to significantly complicate Viviane’s claims and have her lawyer lose his cool.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Essentially that is what Vivianne’s and Elisha’s marriage is. They’re both described as good, honest people by those who know them, and they raised fine children, but their marriage has been awful all along. Naturally, Shim‘on tries to focus on the saccharine elements, or at least portray Vivianne as the one responsible for making it anything else, while Carmel tries to scratch that surface.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: When Carmel asks Evelyn to describe Vivianne, she says, ‘An amazing woman, I love her!’ When he asks her to describe Elisha, she thinks a bit, clearly not wanting to offend him, and says, ‘...Special. A special man.’
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • The values the rabbinical court enshrines (especially in terms of rampant misogyny and religious bias) are hardly ones the common Israeli Jew subscribes to, but most Israeli Jews still get married and divorced through them because it’s too expensive to get a civil marriage abroad (Israel does not allow civil marriages for anyone who’s not registered as having no religion) and getting divorced in a secular court is 9 times more expensive, or out of a sense of identity. The film deliberately highlights this dissonance as an Author Tract.
    • Aside from this, the general process is very different than that of modern, secular courts. Just try to count the times when the characters talk over each other when they shouldn’t be, or when an equivalent lawyer in such a court could rightfully object on the grounds of relevance, say, when the counsellor’s lineage or religious knowledge is brought into question.
    • Furthermore, some characters, being both Moroccan (a typically more conservative community) and religious, express some rather outdated views (in modern Western eyes) on married life and the control men should have over their wives.
  • Determinator:
    • The trial lasts for years, but neither Viviane nor Elisha are willing to give up.
    • Elisha in particular has a will of iron (or, rather, is extremely obstinate) when it comes to upholding his end of a conflict, to the point he’s refused to speak to another man from his synagogue for 15 years over a petty argument about the correct prayer format or something similar, despite his attempts to apologise, something Carmel uses to demonstrate how impossible he is. Hell, even prison, which he’s sent to for his repeated contempt of court and refusal to yieldnote , won’t make Elisha change his mind.
  • Extreme Doormat: Donna Abuksis, who never says or does anything without getting approval from her husband Simon. When Carmel cross-examines her, he chews her out for it and pushes her into admitting how bad the Amsalem’s marriage really is, she breaks into tears, and Simon leaves angrily, much to his wife’s horror.
  • Foot-Dragging Divorcee: Viviane wants to divorce while Elisha doesn’t.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Viviane says Elisha won’t be satisfied until he sees her a sobbing mess, if at all. While it’s not really what he’s after, he does concede only after she breaks down and cries like crazy in frustration.
    • Viviane’s sister-in-law saying ‘shit’ in court and her general disrespect for the judges during her rant gets her kicked out of the courtroom. Same thing happens to Viviane near the ending.
  • Gratuitous French/Gratuitous Foreign Language: Being that the majority of characters are Moroccan, and despite the judges asserting, ‘In this courtroom we speak Hebrew!’, they naturally pepper their speech with lots of French and Moroccan Arabic. Special mention goes to Elisha, who is portrayed by a French actor, whose dialogue is overwhelmingly French, using Hebrew almost entirely for short phrases; he does so even after being told that he should be speaking Hebrew.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Rabbi Shim‘on accuses Evelyn, Émile’s sister-in-law, of arguing in favour of giving Viviane her gett because she’s jealous of her being married while she’s still single, despite being middle-aged. The next witness they bring is Rachel Amzaleg, Émile’s wife, who aggressively asserts that she’s already married.
  • Heroic BSoD: Viviane after Elisha stops the process of giving her the gett in the middle.
    Viviane: (Crying in despair) Donne-moi ma liberté!note  Donne-moi ma liberté!...
  • Hysterical Woman: What Elisha and Shim‘on try to portray Vivianne as.
    Elisha: It’s impossible to talk to her. Elle crie. C’est tout qu’elle sait faire.note 
  • If I Can't Have You…: At the very end of the film, when Viviane and Elisha speak directly, Elisha reveals that he still loves her and this is why he won’t give her the gett. That’s why he stopped the process in the middle when he was told to say, ‘And thou art hereby permitted to any man.’
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Elisha backs down from conceding to sign the papers at the last second.
  • No-Sell: The judges want to revoke Elisha’s driver’s licence if he doesn’t comply, but Viviane tells them he never got one. They go for blocking his credit card, but she tells them he doesn’t have one of those either. The finally decide on blocking his bank account.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Viviane mentions forcing her to live with her mother-in-law as one of the things she hated Elisha doing to her. Shim‘on spins it into making Elisha look like a devoted son and apologises to him for not chipping in when she was alive.
  • Precision F-Strike: Viviane’s sister-in-law, and later Viviane herself, using the word ‘shit’ in the courtroom.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Viviane delivers a scathing one against the rabbinical courts when she runs out of patience, comparing them unfavourably to the US court system, telling the judges that eventually the public will get sick of them and they’ll lose all authority, and outright calling them ‘shit’. It angers the judges enough to ban her from the court for a year.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The judges (as do many of the witnesses) seem to have this attitude (definitely a case of Truth in Television). This, along with cussing in court, gets Viviane’s sister-in-law kicked out of the courtroom.
  • Stoic Woobie: In-Universe, Elisha tries to portray himself as this, claiming that he can’t express his emotions like Vivianne can, so when their children as well as their friends and family would see her collapsing and him standing still, they would naturally take her side, which is why he ultimately started disallowing visitors and friends from coming over, as they’d always start accusing him.
  • Truth in Television: Rabbinical courts in Israel definitely can get this bad and even worse.
  • Two Decades Behind: Elisha claims to be a film aficionado, and that he knows ‘all the stars: from Charles Bronson to... uh... Gregory Peck’. The reason for how outdated his knowledge is is that newer films feature things he shouldn’t be watching as a devout person.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Basically Elisha’s modus operandi: finding a way to put Viviane down on everything she does until she lashes out at him, making those who don’t know him well enough think she is the mean one.