The Israeli film "Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" tells the story of a Jewish woman undergoing a painful, yearslong process to secure a divorce from her husband in religious court, directly confronting an insidious form of subjugation.
The "Gett," or divorce document, can only be obtained if the man approves, and Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) gets no cooperation from husband Elijah (Simon Akbarian), though their marriage has been effectively ended for years.
The film, codirected and written by Elkabetz and her brother Shlomi, takes place entirely within the bland white walls of the ramshackle courtroom where Viviane and Elijah's marriage is adjudicated by a panel of rabbis, with friends and family members testifying as witnesses and endless obfuscations only prolong Viviane's torment.
An entire world is constructed inside this spare room; the camera doesn't move, cutting between medium shots and tight close-ups, with each placement carefully calibrated to reflect the struggles of a woman's Sisyphean quest for freedom.
There's plenty of talking in the movie; lots of testimony about the Amsalem home, outside perspective on the tides of their long marriage and squabbling between their various defenders and the rabbinical judges.
The key to understanding "Gett," though, is through its formal visual and structural qualities: the ways we are shown Viviane's face for long stretches at the beginning of nearly every scene, watching as she processes and confronts this experience. It's in the way months and years flow together, at a rapid clip, with this woman stranded in purgatory, and in the conflict between the drab setting and the high drama that unfolds within it. And finally it's in a shot toward the end, where Viviane is finally able to look outside and see a sunny day.
Directed by Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz
Starring Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Gabi Amrani
Playing @ Lincoln Plaza Cinemas