'Fill the Void' tells an emotional and compelling story that allows us to glimpse into a very unique and complex world. It's a remarkable debut feature from Rama Burshtein.
Director: Rama Burshtein Cast: Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg, Chaim Sharir Genre: Drama Country of Origin: Israel 2012 Language: Hebrew with English subtitles Rating:****
'A meticulously composed, compelling and absorbing glimpse into a special and complex world'.
'Fill the Void' tells the story of an orthodox Hasidic family from Tel Aviv. Eighteen-year-old Shira (Hadas Yaron) is the youngest daughter of the family and is about to be married off to a promising young man of the same age and background. It's a dream-come-true and Shira feels prepared and excited.
On Purim her twenty eight year old sister, Esther (Renana Raz) dies while giving birth to her first child. The pain and grief that overwhelm the family postpone Shira's promised match. Everything changes when an offer is proposed to match Yochay (Yiftach Klein) - the late Esther's husband - to a widow in Belgium. Yochay feels it's too early, although he realises that sooner or later he must seriously consider getting married again.
When Shira's mother finds out that Yochay may leave the country with her only grandchild, she proposes a match between Shira and the widower which presents her daughter with a moral dilemma. She'll have to choose between her heart's wish and her family duty and will realise that the void which she must choose exists only in her heart. There are parallels to Jane Austen, an author that the director greatly admires - in the Hasidic world the rules are rigid and clear. The characters aren't looking for a way out, they're trying to find a way to accommodate within the Hasidic world. The dilemma - to take Esther's place alongside Yochay and raise their son or follow her dreams and deny her mother's wishes.
'Fill the Void' avoids the religious-secular dialogue and allows us a glimpse into the ultra-orthodox Hasidic community whose life is separate from the community beyond, a culture that focuses on religion, marriage, strong family ties, a sense of purpose and tradition. Marriages are never forced in the Hasidic world - parents do propose matches with their children but even then the couple must agree.
It's restrained, almost meditative at times, wonderfully composed and never say that rabbis don't have a sense of humour. There are few camera movements with Asaf Sudry's brilliant cinematography framing the characters as portraits. It's an absorbing view of part of a special and complex world that has warmth and vibrancy and it's refreshing and important that such a work reaches the screen.
It's a remarkable film that visits an unusual and fascinating world and offers moments that remain in the memory - the soulful and haunting Hebrew rendition of Psalm 137, 'If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem' and the close-up lingering images that conclude this first feature from Rama Burshtein.
Released by Artificial Eye 13th December 2013 in selected cinemas.