An interesting juxtaposition can be drawn between two films with Jewish protagonists, Felix and Meira and Get (Der Prozess der Vivane Amsalem). The common theme of the films is Jewish women living in traditional homes who are struggling to break free of their restrictions. Although Felix and Meira takes place in Quebec and Gett takes place in Israel, the relationships depicted are both extremely conservative for the women, although they results differ significantly due to cultural influences.
In Felix and Meira, Meira is a young Jewish Orthodox mother living in Quebec, who is stifled by the cultural and religious constraints of her marriage. When she meets Felix, an under-achieving man with a dysfunctional relationship with his family, Meira is intrigued and drawn to him like a moth to flame.
Gett (which means “divorce” in Hebrew) depicts the trials and tribulations of an Israeli woman seeking a divorce. In Israel, in order to get divorced, a couple must go before a council of Rabbis to make their case, and once they receive the recommendation, the husband is given the final decision and must willingly divorce his wife. Viviane Amsalem’s husband does not want to give her a divorce. In the five years that pass by in the film, Viviane is forced to endure her husband’s refusal to grant the divorce, the dissection of her character by the all-male Rabbi council and the general torture of struggling for years for freedom from her relationship.
Both films highlight how the rules of Jewish culture affect women. Meira is a creative young woman who likes to draw and listen to jazz, which is forbidden by her husband due to their faith. The restrictions her husband and the community put upon her slowly disintegrate their relationship as she finds herself more and more drawn to the freedom of Felix and his world. In Gett, we see how Viviane, who, having married young, found herself unable to meet the religious expectations of her husband and is trying to free herself from the relationship. In both instances, the women feel stifled by their husbands and by the cultural code they are expected to follow. However, interestingly the films show two completely different reactions to the breakup.
The love of the husbands is also a major theme. In Felix and Meira, this is shown by emotional scenes of Meira’s husband trying to help their relationship, beating up Felix when he finds that they are together and, eventually, releasing his control of Meira to Felix. His relationship with Meira is extremely patriarchal, but he also clearly loves her and treats her as is expected within their society. In Gett, Viviane’s husband Elisha claims to still love his wife and this is enough to trap her permanently in the relationship according to Israeli law. Both films show the fundamental issues of such relationships, which are founded in strict power structures that have a difficult time in the modern world.
While clearly both films are feminist in nature and are realistic in their depictions of how even when women gain the freedom that they seek, they are not always truly released from their cultural upbringing. In Gett, Viviane must agree to give up her potential for relationships with any other man in order to get her husband to divorce her. Whether this is legally binding or if she personally takes it thus, is not explained. However, it is clear that while she is divorced, she has not truly escaped her husband’s clutches. Likewise, Meira also gains her freedom and ends up in Venice with Felix and her baby, but Felix does not look so blissfully happy as one might assume considering he chased after Meira for the whole movie, and the audience is left to wonder whether this escape from reality can really last. Can two people from such extremely different backgrounds truly stay together in the long run? And will Meira find permanent happiness completely excluded from her family and community that she has known her entire life? This is left up to the viewer to decide. In both instances, it is clear that the cultural restrictions they tried so hard to escape still have control of their lives.