and Shlomi Elkabetz
Talk About Their Award-Winning Film
GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
Beverly Cohn Editor-at-Large
This provocative film is
Israel's official submission for the Best Foreign Language Academy
Award. Photo: Courtesy of Music Box Films
ETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is an award-winning film
and Israel's submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign
Language Film. This is the third film in a trilogy, which began
over a decade ago. Written and directed by the Israeli brother-and-sister
team of Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz. Miss Elkabetz,
an award-winning actress, has starred as the lead character, Viviane
Amsalem, beginning with the first film, To Take a Wife, followed
by Seven Days, and likewise stars in their latest film.
This is a provocative film which explores the exhaustive
attempts by the female character to secure a divorce in Israel,
which is only possible to attain through the male dominated rabbinical
court system, and only if the husband agrees to the divorce. There is
no such thing as a civil marriage or civil divorce and only rabbis can
dissolve a marriage through a "gett," a system that has been
in place for thousands of years and is under the exclusive control of
Orthodox rabbis." According to the filmmakers, the film
has given impetus to a movement to change this archaic, sexist law.
L-R: Viviane's attorney Carmel (Menashe Noy) Viviane
(Ronit Elkabetz) and her husband Shimon (Sasson Gabai).
Photo: Courtesy of Music Box Films
Besides Miss Elkabetz, other members of the
cast include: Simon Abkarian as her husband Elisha, Menashe
Noy as her lawyer Carmel Ben Tovim, Sasson Gabai,
as Elisha's brother Rabbi Shimon, and Eli Gornstein as
Head Rabbi Salmion.
Ronit and Shlomi recently sat down
with your reporter for an exclusive interview, and the following has
been edited for content and continuity.
What motivated you to tell this story?
Ronit: So many women in Israel go through this
process so many.
Shlomi: Right now there are about 45,000 open
cases. The rabbinical courts govern marriage and divorce and that applies
to everyone secular and non-secular. There are no other options
in Israel, so it's very complicated.
How long do you have to wait to go to court and
plead your case?
Ronit: If everyone is in agreement, it can be two days
but if you refuse like Elisha, the character of the husband in
our film, you could wait years and years or all your life.
Shlomi: The radical cases are twenty years or more.
How did the project start and did you base your
character on someone you knew personally?
Ronit: Actually, one day I called my brother. He lives
in New York. I was in Paris. I told him I have something
that I want to talk with you about. I want to do something with you.
We knew that one day we would work together again, but each of us went
our separate ways after the last film. The character of Viviane
is based, in a way, on the story of our mother. I didn't know what I
wanted to do with it, but I wanted so much to do something with this
question of a woman who just doesn't feel good in her place and
wants to leave, but can't find a way to leave. So, I went to New
York and Shlomi and I just started to speak just to
speak and we found that after three weeks we wrote a script.
Shlomi: When we started to write the story, at first
we thought the story was going to be about a little girl or boy. But,
after two or three days of work, Ronit told me it's not the story
of this girl and it's not the story of this boy this is the story
of their mother. It's not autobiographical, but we did extract material
from our lives.
How was it writing together and were there any
conflicts during the shoot?
Shlomi: Not at all, actually not even one. We
say that we vomited the story, meaning that everything we had in our
minds was expressed immediately on the page, and then in the film.
Did the script go through any changes during the
Shlomi: We did not change one word of the original script
that we wrote in New York.
Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz, the brother-and-sister
team who co-wrote and co-directed "GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,"
in which Ronit plays the lead character. Photo: Courtesy
of Music Box Films
Did any sibling stuff come up during the writing
or directing processes?
Ronit: It was an extraordinary for us. It was like 20
hours a day. We couldn't stop speaking and dreaming and telling the
story. We asked a lot of questions about what we wanted. What do we
want to tell? Through the days, we understood what the subject was.
Shlomi: It was like an epiphany for us in many ways.
First, the new encounter: Two adults coming to do something together.
Coping with our relationship, with our past, with our future, with our
dreams, and the dreams of this woman.
Ronit: Suddenly, as we were writing, we saw all the
women in our family differently. We started to look at them and would
say, what about her and her and her. How is she living? How is the relationship
between her and her husband? We discovered that this situation is all
over. It was like a dramatic discovery.
Shlomi: It's like you know your family. You know your
neighborhood. You look at them and you say okay, this is my mother,
that's my aunt, she gives me food; she cleans my house; she brought
me a present. All of a sudden you see the women in your life differently.
She's not just your mother. She's not just your aunt. She's not just
your grandmother. You see them as people, and I think it's an amazing
discovery in anyone's personal life to all of sudden to really
see the people who are surrounding you.
How did you see the character of Viviane?
Shlomi: She's a fighter. She's a warrior.
Ronit: She's a progressive woman. We grew with her over
the last two films. We tried to be attentive to her needs. It was really
amazing for us to spend this past year with her character. We not only
learned a lot about her, but about the situation with women in Israel.
Did you interview women who had actually gone
through this judicial process?
Shlomi: We didn't need to. We knew this situation upside
down. So we took the story and poured it into the Israeli law
system to see how the Orthodox court copes with this couple.
How can the State help them solve their problem?
Did you get any resistance from the Orthodox community?
Shlomi: Listen, I don't have to hide when I'm doing
a film about anyone. The Orthodox in the Israeli government
is not like the KGB. We do want we want and stand with the consequences.
Have there been consequences for you?
Shlomi: There have been extremely positive consequences.
You mentioned in another interview that a new
law regarding divorce might be enacted. Is that a reality and will the
Orthodox community allow that to happen?
Ronit: That's a big question and maybe that's going
to be a reality.
Shlomi: For the first time in centuries, the head rabbi
of Israel was repeatedly asked if he had seen GETT
in the cinema. Because the film became a political and cultural event,
he had to cope with it. He informed the press that he was going to show
the film at his annual convention of rabbinical judges. This is an enormous
achievement. Nobody would believe that something like this could happen.
Will you be at the screening?
Shlomi: We're not allowed, but we can talk to them later.
This is a huge step and since this is happening, I don't think it will
be easy to go back to the present way, as there must be a progression.
Up until now, the rabbinical courts have not changed because of political
When you screened the film for young people, what
was their reaction?
Ronit: The reaction I had from young people was that
they were going to think about this subject. Some of them said, 'I don't
know if I'm going to get married.'
The judges in the Rabbinical Court are 1st Deputy
(Rami Danon,) Presiding Judge (Eli Gorstein,) and 2nd Deputy (Roberto
Pollack). Photo: Courtesy of Music Box Films
How did you go about casting the rabbis?
Shlomi: We worked with a casting director. We don't
audition actors, but just about every actor in Israel who knows
our work says they don't have to read the script and accepts the role.
But, in this specific film, all the actors that got the role of the
one of the rabbis said this was an amazing story, but was an "ungrateful"
role and couldn't see the drama on just reading the script.
So if you don't hold auditions and don't have
an open casting calls, what is your process of selection?
Ronit: When we are writing a script, we have an actor
in mind. We imagine who would be right for the part. Also, GETT
is the third film in a trilogy about Viviane Amsalem and some
of the actors worked were in the first two films. In this film, we had
six or seven actors who were new. So, we don't do auditions. We offer
You mentioned earlier that you didn't change a
line in the script. Did an actor ever say that a particular line didn't
feel right and how did you handle that?
Shlomi: Occasionally an actor would ask if a line could
be made shorter, but really that didn't happen very often.
Ronit: They loved the script so much that there were
virtually no problems.
How have your lives changed since this film?
Shlomi: When someone comes to you and says that you
have changed a perspective in his life, you feel that the change is
not only happening outside, but is also happening within yourself as
Ronit: Today we can say things that before we couldn't
say and we can say it simply and clearly. We deserve that.
It is my opinion that the role of the artist is
to illuminate the human condition and you certainly have achieved that
with this film. Congratulations.
On working together Shlomi said: "It was like
an epiphany for us in many ways... Two adults coming to do something
together. Coping with our relationship, with our past, with our future,
with our dreams, and the dreams of this woman." (Viviane Amsalem).
Photo: Beverly Cohn
Ronit & Shlomi: Thank you very much.
(GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem opens at the
Royal Theatre on Friday, February 13, 2015)