Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
With "Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem," siblings Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz prove that they rank with the finest filmmakers alive.
Every shot, cut, line, performance, indeed every moment in this feature is perfectly judged, always conveying precisely what it needs to convey in order to define its characters and move the story forward. And yet the result never seems merely neat or efficient. Even though "Gett" tells of 45-year-old Israeli woman seeking a divorce from her domineering husband, and makes unsettling points about what it means to be a woman in a religiously conservative country (or a woman in any society), the film is less an object lesson, lecture, or problem picture than a comedy-drama about the complexity of people and the elusiveness of truth.
Most of the film takes place in a small courtroom, with the plaintiff, Viviane (co-director Ronit Elkabetz, who's also an accomplished actress), suing her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian of "Zero Dark Thirty") for divorce. For women, divorce is much harder to obtain in Israel than in other Westernized countries. In fact, the husband holds most of the cards and rarely has to lay any of them down. The male-dominated, religiously orthodox panel of judges overseeing the case (led by Rabbi Solomon, played by Mandy Patinkin-lookalike Eli Gornstein) insists on a high standard of proof from Viviane—so high, in fact, that what should be a simple matter of filling out forms becomes an ordeal that would tax the patience of Job.
As depicted here, an Israeli woman can't split from her spouse without proving extraordinary abuse or neglect. A simple assertion of "We don't get along" or "This marriage was a mistake" is not enough. All the husband has do to preserve the status quo is avoid taking action—and that's what Elisha, a magnetic yet tactically aloof man, does in the first part of "Gett," asking for delays, failing to show up in court, and otherwise stonewalling and dragging things out in an attempt to wear Viviane down. He doesn't want to grant her wish. We wonder why. There seems to be little love left between them. Is his intransigence a matter of male pride: the fear of losing face? Or does he truly love her, so much that he'd rather be miserable with her than let her go?