This movie never leaves the courtroom or its antechamber, but that’s not

This movie never leaves the courtroom or its antechamber, but that’s not the only reason things are unbearably claustrophobic. The limited range of movement perfectly sums up the situation of an unhappy wife, whose suit for divorce against her estranged husband takes years to untangle. Why would it take years? Because the courtroom in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is not a civil one, but a religious one. The scenario feels like it was dreamed up by Franz Kafka on a grouchy day, but it’s one that is unfortunately still possible in Israel.

Israeli brother-and-sister filmmakers Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz have made two previous films chronicling the breakdown of an arranged marriage, To Take a Wife (2004) and 7 Days (2008). Having not seen them, I can say with complete confidence that you do not have to to fully comprehend Gett, which takes the same characters and actors and puts them in this terrible endgame. Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) has employed a charismatic lawyer (Menashe Noy) to represent her case for divorce. Husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian)—when he bothers to show up in court—refuses the divorce, which means Viviane must make her case to a tribunal of rabbis, who basically keep asking Elisha whether he’ll let Viviane go. No? Then maybe she should move back in with him for three months. Then maybe six months. Maybe another year.

Each grueling stage is enacted in the same cramped, dreary room, with much of the action played out across Ronit Elkabetz’s extraordinarily grave face (she was a memorable presence in the excellent 2001 Israeli film Late Marriage). She has to give a great performance with her face and body, because Viviane only occasionally has a voice—this matter is for the men to talk about and decide. For a film so militant in airing its cause, Gett is adept at unspoken communication; for instance, something in their glances suggests that Viviane and her attorney have a mutual attraction going on. But for all we know, such an attraction might still be completely unacknowledged. The movie’s not entirely grim—there are colorful supporting characters and moments of comedy—but the experience is absolutely nerve-wracking. Unlike in Twelve Angry Men, there’s no Henry Fonda character to steer the proceedings into satisfying completeness. Given the film’s political nature, that’s as it should be—Gett is meant to agitate, not gratify.

GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSALEM Opens Fri., April 10 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Not rated. 115 minutes.