#52FILMSBYWOMEN is a campaign launched by Women In Film in an attempt to raise awareness of female filmmakers. Their initiative asks cinephiles to watch a female-directed film once a week for an entire year, and in this series I will document the films I watched as a part of this pledge.
I begin my #52FILMSBYWOMEN challenge with Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem from sister-brother directing duo Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz. This remarkable courtroom drama depicts the struggles of an Israeli woman named Viviane Amsalem, played by co-director Ronit Elkabetz, who is desperately seeking a divorce from her domineering husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian), of over twenty years. Under Jewish law, a ‘gett’ (sometimes spelt ‘get’) must be acquired from the rabbinical court to enable a pair to get legitimately divorced, but this can only be obtained if the husband gives permission – something Elisha is reluctant to do.
Over the course of the proceedings, the domineering husband makes it as difficult for his estranged wife as possible: he fails to appear on the scheduled court dates, he accuses her of not appreciating him enough and despite their obvious incompatibility, he persistently rejects her appeals for a divorce. Weeks, months and even years past, yet seemingly little progress is made to the frustration of Viviane, and sadly the rabbis judging their case are largely unhelpful to her cause; suggesting her to go home and try harder to resolve their discourse.
Admittedly, an Israeli divorce drama set within the confines of the courtroom may not sound like the most enticing piece of cinema, but this is a highly engaging, captivating film. While the narrative unfolds, we grow increasingly infuriated along with our heroine as she attempts to fight for her freedom. The process is gruelling for both parties, with ugly truths and intimate details of their private life exposed for all to hear, but there are also unexpected moments of farcical levity as witnesses give their testimonies to the judges. Elkabetz and Abkarian are fantastic as the disputing couple. They mostly sit in silence, but, even without the luxury of excessive dialogue, their occasional glances at one another perfectly illustrate their thoughts.
This is the third in the Elkabetzs’ trilogy that explores marriage (after To Take a Wife and Shiva), and it’ll sadly also be the last from Ronit Elkabetz, who tragically passed away after a long battle with cancer in April. Not only has Israel lost one of their most iconic actress, but also, on the evidence of this, a promising filmmaker who wasn’t afraid to take on controversial themes and challenge the patriarchy.