Wrenching Israeli divorce drama Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem‘s strict focus on courtroom sparring constantly threatens the film’s fine balance of gorgeously lensed, body-language-centric reaction shots and expertly paced interrogatory dialogue scenes. We don’t get to see estranged couple Elisha (Ararat‘s Simon Abkarian) and Viviane (co-writer/-director Ronit Elkabetz) interact with each other, their loved ones, or their respective counselors beyond adversarial questions and recriminatory glances.
But Gett never devolves into a trite shout-fest because its creators are more interested in the slow, painful wearing-away of Viviane’s and Elisha’s respective defenses than they are in either boosting her or belittling him. Elisha is, in this context, a hateful antagonist, as he frequently refuses to appear before the court and unequivocally denies any wrongdoing, making it impossible for ultra-orthodox Rabbi Solomon (Eli Gornstein) to defer to Viviane’s needs.
Thankfully, Elisha’s spiteful character is revealed subtly through insinuation and speculation during heated trial interviews: Viviane reluctantly assents when her advocate Carmel (Menashe Noy) asks why she and Elisha stopped having sex: “You wanted and he refused?” While that loaded question is the crux of Gett‘s punishing drama, the film never devolves into finger-wagging hysterics thanks to Ronit and brother/co-director Shlomi Elkabetz’s keen attention to their actors’ performances, especially Ronit’s star turn.
She photographs herself through wide-angle lenses that emphasize sullen glares and faraway looks that make it seem as if Viviane’s slowly vanishing before our eyes. Ronit’s remarkable sensitivity makes Gett a tough but essential melodrama.