Thoughts On: Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem - Possessed By Law

14/06/2018

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem - Possessed By Law

Thoughts On: Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (גט - המשפט של ויויאן אמסלם‎, 2014)


Made by Ronit Elkabetz, this is the Israeli film of the series.


A serious relationship is marked by 4 words: "I belong to you". These 4 words are uttered twice, each partner suggesting that they, in essence, will give part of their soul, their self, to the other as to form a unified whole that will sustain them both. Reflexively, one completes the phrase "I belong to you" with "and you belong to me". However, as higher wisdom, I believe, suggests, this is a blunder; in fact the notion of "I belong to you and you belong to me" is a potentially dangerous one, highly akin to a syllogism. That is to suggest that, to some degree, the illogical reduction of "all cats have four legs; my dog has four legs; therefore, my dog is a cat" is tantamount to "I belong to you; therefore you belong to me".

The issue in "I belong to you; therefore you belong to me" is causality, but whilst this is a semantic problem, its effects do not just manifest at the linguistic level. To suggest that, because you are willing to give yourself to someone, that they therefore inherently belong to you is then what I am suggesting is fundamentally wrong with this phrase. It is important to highlight that "I belong to you and you belong to me" does not necessarily suggest causality and danger like "I belong to you; therefore you belong to me". However, there is nonetheless chance of harmful reduction in the phrase. Alas, it should be again emphasised that this is a semantic issue, one easily perceived as trivial. At least, this is true in text. In reality, this is not a semantic issue, but an ethical, psychological and symbolic issue. If one then contextualises these words and puts them in the mouth of a human who may utter "I belong to you", one can easily sense that the reflexive "and you belong to me", is indicative of hope turned to fact. What one means when they say "I belong to you and you belong to me", when it is said in good faith, is so often translatable to "I belong to you and I hope you belong to me" or "I belong to you and I have faith in you belonging to me". Issue arises when one becomes possessed and irrational to the point that they force a reduction tantamount to "I belong to you; therefore you belong to me". Such a reduction manifests as "I belong to you and so you better belong to me". Such words are not at all markers of a good relationship for they are malicious and without faith. "I belong to you" is a signifier of a strong relationship as it bears faith in the hope that the partner is willing to return the words, hence they will say "I belong to you" before such words are put in their mouth with "and you belong to me".

It is unfortunate--deplorable, to assume a stronger tone--that, though concepts of the divine and sacred individual have a central place in Abrahamic religions, "I belong to you" is made by religious doctrine and philosophy into poisonous syllogism. Historically, by Christian, Jewish and Islamic law, divorce has signified that, because a man chooses that he belongs to a woman, she inherently belongs to him. Thus divorce has, at times, betrayed the free will and sanctity of the individual and their choice, especially if that individual is a female - and it continues to do this where there has not been proper reform that sees just civil law take a place above corrupt religious law.

In the modern day, we see cinema make its attempts at interacting with this ethical issue; some films including Divorce Iranian Style and Sisters In Law, that highlight the injustices and difficulties of divorce under religious law. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is a film cut from the same cloth; a masterpiece courtroom drama, character study and ethical investigation. It focuses on Jewish gett, or get, laws in Israel, emphasising the power which men are allowed to wield as those who essentially possess their wife and, in turn, are the only ones able to free her with divorce. Encapsulating our opening discussion of "I belong to you", this narrative reverses the tables on the premise that a man owns his wife by depicting how a man who refuses to free his wife is ultimately possessed by his image her. And this is meant in the Jungian respect. Gett, in turn, divorce in Israel, requires one simple, yet essential statement to be made by the man: "You are hereby permitted to all men". This is the ultimate conflict of The Trial of Viviane Amsalem; the man refuses to give his wife a divorce because he doesn't want her to be had by another man. And religious tradition and the culture it pervades over legitimises and supports his possession with the woman being subject to dishonour as an adulteress if she is not permitted divorce and tries to be with another man - despite not being in a true relationship with her husband.

Such a crippling sense of injustice makes for a narrative tragedy on two planes. The initial tragedy, the surface level tragedy clear to the eye, is that one's will can be suppressed by divorce laws; whilst divorce laws should seek to ensure that a contract made under law is not broken for little to no reason, they should never obligate any individual to stay bound to another when they truly do not want to - especially in a context where adultery, a breach of a monogamous contract, introduces some kind of punishment (in Israel, for example, whilst adultery is not illegal, you cannot marry someone who you have committed adultery with). The deeper tragedy depicted by The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is found in the character study that is staged via the courtroom drama. What the conflict between the married couple then reveals is the man's capricious nature, which is hinged entirely upon the fact that he not only bears, but is supported by law to bear, an image of his wife that is his and his alone, that he has chained himself to, and along with it the real individual, his wife, which it is unjustly bound to. Because the man will not see this pure servant image be free because he believes it is his to wield as he wants, the woman then suffers - and it remains unclear if her suffering will ever cease; a tragic fact that permeates through her photogénic stare.

As this narrative closes, one can only then ponder upon the nature of the image that captures the wife, Viviane. The success of the film, if we see humanity in her image, is that it is aesthetically and symbolically freeing, that it relinquishes the person from the canvas, her given persona from her true self. There nonetheless remains tragedy for the fact that, beyond the eventually liberating image, is still a trapped woman who, in the eyes of other characters, remains a painting on the inner walls of others' minds.

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