Gett: The Trail of Viviane Amsalem

March 1, 2015 at 8:30 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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During the box office doldrums between the circle jerk that is the Oscar rush of Fall and the beginning of blockbuster season in May (which is the full on jerk off of the rest of America), there is this quite little period when one can often find hidden gems at the movies. These are almost always the small foreign films that will never make much money and just wouldn’t get seen during the Fall glut of films but are sometimes brilliant, none-the-less. More than once, my favorite film of the year has come from this period. While this one won’t likely be my favorite, it is a strong work worthy of recognition. Taking place entirely in an Israeli courtroom and lobby over the course of several years, the film follows one woman’s herculean task of trying to get a divorce (called a “gett” in Hebrew) without her husband’s support. In the hands of directors Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz, the Israeli legal system is a shockingly sexist bureaucracy so absurdist it reminded me of Gilliam’s “Brazil” and Heller’s “Catch 22.” In parts, the film was so absurdist that you had to laugh even while the implications were chilling. In this world, women are invisible, even when they are ostensibly the center of attention. Men whirled and fretted and preened and bloviated all in a maelstrom around Viviane (played with a cold fury by director Ronit Elkabetz), second guessing her capacity for rational decision making, all the while revealing her as the only rational one in the room. While the repetition can get a bit tiresome in parts (the film could have perhaps been 20 minutes shorter), there is a powerful message here. This is a clever film from start to finish and well worth the irritation, indignation and surprise it will evoke in you.

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The Gatekeepers

March 2, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Posted in 2013 | 1 Comment
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Still on my documentary kick (after “56 Up” and “West of Memphis”), I had to see this much-buzzed Oscar nominated film about Israel’s Shin Bet.  Well, third time’s a charm.  I was absolutely fascinated by this movie every step of the way.  Somehow, director Dror Moreh managed to get all but one of the seven directors of the Shin Bet who served between 1981 and 2011 to sit down and be interviewed.  And be shockingly frank.  I was amazed to hear these men talk about missions, both failed and successful, to assassinate key Palestinians.  They admitted to key failures, including the deaths of innocents and even admitted to killing possible innocents intentionally as the only way to get at certain targets.  In one of the most griping scenes, Director Avraham Shalom (ironic name) admits to and then calmly justifies a calculated and shockingly callous decision.  It’s like a car wreck that you are appalled by but cannot look away from.  I should add that there are also photos of literal car wrecks in the form of bombed buses that are quite graphic.  The film does not shy away from showing us the effect of violence from both sides.  Another stunning moment came when one of the directors made reference to an American screw up (truly horrific in it’s outcome) that I had never heard of; it is hard to image anyone in the U.S. ever being as honest as these men were, though I am sure we have been every bit as guilty as Israel in our covert ops.  No small amount of time is spent with each of the men philosophizing about the morality of their behavior and how it has affected them.  The conclusions they reached in the final section of the film were almost universally identical and incredibly powerful.  Now, if only anyone would listen.

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