In Jewish law, a husband must give his wife a decree of divorce (known as a gett) in order for a divorce to take effect and allow her to remarry. Some men refuse to do so, and this has created a major social problem, especially in Israel, where religious courts are given authority over marriage and divorce.  Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, winner of the Ophir award for best Israeli picture, is concerned with this issue.

Films dealing with social problems are, I think, often of poor quality. They can easily fall into tendentiousness and didacticism, where the colorful complexities of the human situation are reduced to highly simplified, black-and-white dramas of good versus evil. Too often, they are earnest, predictable, propagandistic, and dull.

Gett does not seem to me to avoid this entirely. Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz, who also served as co-director and co-screenwriter) wishes to divorce her husband of more than twenty years, Elisha (Simon Abkarian), from whom she already lives apart and with whom she has had four children. Elisha is religiously observant, but Viviane, though raised in a religious family, has to some extent fallen away from it because of a marriage which she finds to be utterly miserable. Elisha refuses to give Viviane a gett.

The trial is long, drawn-out, and suffused with often explosive emotions. The Amsalems, their lawyers, the witnesses, and two of the three judges do not always keep their cool. Some may find this aspect of the film a bit overdone. The trial is rather ugly. All or virtually all the scenes occur in the religious court or an anteroom to it.

As the film progresses, however, we come to learn more about the Amsalems, and it evolves from a social problem film to a realistic drama. It becomes more difficult to make a judgement about the the protagonists and their marriage, just as it is difficult for any outsider to understand a particular marriage. The resolution of the situation is definitive, but not all ambiguity is eliminated.

Does such a film, dealing with a particularly Jewish Israeli issue, have anything to offer a general American audience?  I think so. It is a fairly effective domestic drama, for one thing. In addition, it can show in its own evolution the difference between a social issues film and a realistic human drama. That is a distinction worth understanding.