Court and Gett: two films in which absurd court cases hold up mirrors to society
Ask anyone who has had to spend time watching legal proceedings unfold, the inside of a courtroom isn’t a particularly exciting place. Television shows may have added all sorts of crackling energy to the process of arguing a case, but in reality, court cases are dreary business. However, the very fact that a court case can be an excruciatingly boring crusade has been used to brilliant, piercing effect in two films that showed at the Mumbai Film Festival this year.
Gett is the story of a divorce. In Israel, marriage is not a civil affair and it is governed by the religious courts. Consequently, when Viviane Amsalem decides that she can no longer live with her husband after 15 painful years of marriage, she has to turn to a rabbinical court for her freedom. She’s already left his home, she has witnesses who will speak of her integrity, but none of this is of any relevance because without the presence and agreement of her husband, Viviane cannot get a divorce. It sounds ridiculous and becomes even more so as Viviane’s husband first avoids coming to court and then, when he does finally show up, refuses to dissolve their marriage.
A similarly absurd case lies at the heart of Court. While Gett shows how the rights of women are dismissed and trampled in conservative society, Court highlights the callous disregard with which we as a society treat people. The word “caste” isn’t uttered in the film, but discrimination of Dalits is a central feature of Court, which looks at how a sewage worker’s death is exploited to victimize a radical poet. Just as in Gett, it seems ridiculous that this case can last a day, let alone linger. But it does and no matter how many holes the poet’s lawyer pokes in the prosecutor’s argument, it isn’t enough.
Court doesn’t just look and sound realistic. It’s haunted by real life: strains of Dalit protest music, the charges against activists like Arun Ferreira, the death of Vilas Ghogre who committed suicide as an act of protest against the desecration of an Ambedkar statue and the killing of Dalits. Fittingly, the film is also buoyed by a black comedy that arises out of real-life incidents, like the camaraderie between those who commute by Mumbai’s local trains and children's antics during a family holiday.
You wouldn’t think there should be anything in common between a religious court in Israel and a lower court in Mumbai, but every now and then, vein-like connections connect the two films. For example, at one point in Gett, Viviane’s hair comes out of its neatly-tied state and the judges accuse her of indecent behavior. In Court, a woman is told her case will not be heard because she came to court dressed indecently – she’s wearing a sleeveless shirt. Although Court does go into the city, in both films, the courtroom becomes a prism that shows the attitudes governing the society beyond its walls in sharp, unforgiving clarity.
Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court and Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem by brother-sister duo Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz were two standout films at the festival this year. They used the courtroom like a petri dish in which social prejudices and callousness are cultured and the best part about films as powerful as these two is that when you come out, you’re determined to not be infected.
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Updated Date: Oct 29, 2014 15:31:18 IST