The amazing Ronit Elkabetz [Or, Late Marriage, The Bands Visit] is an obvious choice as bored and confined Vivienne, a wife and stay-at-home hairdresser and full time mother to four children physically affected by their parents fighting and disharmony. Affected so much so that one of her youngest boys is often constipated and gets locked in the bathroom in one scene. A gut wrenching story and yet so familiar if you have ever been in a dead-end relationship and feel hopeless and lonely.
Vivienne is a jaded Jewish woman of Morocco who lives in Haifa, Israel in the late 70s, in an apartment building with other relatives. Her husband is demure and quiet and religious. He lacks reaction, even to her tears, and is lifeless in response to her gestures and ideas. But in his defense he does not beat her, he does not raise his voice to her. He attempts to the best he can, unwittingly making things worse, because he is not really listening to her. Sometimes that’s worse than a physical beating. She longs for passion, connection and aliveness. Newness. He goes to work, comes home to eat or make food and with no smile or change in face, goes about religious duty and chores and sleeps only to arise early to start the whole schedule all over again. The strictness of Judaic observances that Vivienne is tied to by association makes her indignant and ever more angry.
Simon Abkarian [Ararat, Le voyage en Arménie] plays Eliyahu to a fault. Dark, observant, muttering. He is a member of a family that lives in a constant fracas, a mess of dysfunction – of which he would never acknowledge, so help him g-d. Their life and home consists of disorderly children (acting out because of their parents aloofness and own struggles) and a basically mute daughter (who speaks so minimally in the film, you wonder if she can even speak off set), a crying baby, nosy brothers and a ragged wife that pleads for him to divorce her.
The film centers around the relationship between husband and wife. It opens with men in the family deciding why she should not leave her husband. She is torn, muddied, emotionally spent and exhausted, at first glance. The dialogue is rich and poignant. Everyone has an opinion about how she could be a better wife, or how lucky she is to have him. It never mentions how they ended up together in the first place.
Vivienne’s been harboring love for another man – Albert, from back home. He parks outside her apartment building after Eliyahu is off to his post office job one day. The only true smile that comes across her face is when she hears his voice on the phone. She no longer appears to be the ragged person she has become in her marriage.
Only Ronit could convey Vivienne. [Ronit like Vivienne is also a Moroccan Jew.] From the screaming cry, the slop of makeup that drips down her cheeks; and the most powerful words spoken, “Nobody can see what you’re doing to me.” The “poison” he “spews” is only for her, she says. The judgement he administers holds her captive. She is so ready to explode at any given moment, the meltdown always feel imminent. She is a victim of the upheavel and yet can’t bear to be the one to walk out … or does she? The ending is hallucinatory and romanticized.
Ronit acts as co-director for the first time in her life, alongside her brother, Shlomi Elkabetz. To Take A Wife is spoken in Moroccan French, Hebrew and Arabic, subtitled in English. Their movement between languages in a film is legendary.