Over the course of their decade-long co-directing partnership, Israeli sister-and-brother duo Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz have distinguished themselves by sheer commitment — to character, to technique and to one another.
“When we meet to work, we are on another planet,” Shlomi says of their process. During the prep phase, the duo laugh, discuss and debate constantly. “And then once we’re on set, we hardly exchange a word.”
Theirs is a unique partnership in many respects, not least of all because Ronit ranks among Israel’s most respected actresses, the winner of three Ophir awards, fluent in French and recognized abroad for such arthouse movies as “The Girl on the Train” and “The Band’s Visit.”
Ronit stars in all three of the siblings’ features, after “The Seven Days” and “To Take a Wife,” each time playing the same character: an Orthodox Jewish woman named Viviane faced with the various challenges of her community. Their latest, the Golden Globe-nominated “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” has had the greatest impact with its unnerving depiction of an Israeli woman trapped in a frigid and oppressive marriage, which cannot be dissolved without her obstinate husband’s consent.
To emphasize the injustice of Viviane’s case, the siblings decided to confine the increasingly absurd drama to the rabbinical courtroom where her request drags out unresolved for five years. “Each shot was crafted as seen from one of the other characters’ gaze, except the last shot of Viviane who is sitting by herself in a room,” Ronit explains. “That process is meant to show the subjective nature of the trial, as all of the protagonists are looking at each other, projecting their own judgment and beliefs.”
According to “Gett” producer Sandrine Brauer, “The audacity and rigor is what makes Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz full-blown auteurs.”
Launched last summer at Cannes, the powerful film — which completes a trilogy begun with “The Seven Days” and “To Take a Wife” — has fueled heated debates about Jewish marital law in Israel. A screening for rabbinical court judges is scheduled at their annual convention in February.
Though the Elkabetzes hope to tackle different stories and genres with their next film, they’re not ruling out checking back on Viviane in a few years.