rama-burshtein-hadas-yaron-fill-the-void

Delicately assured and quietly emotional, Fill the Void could not have come from the mind of anyone other than Israeli writer director, Rama Burshtein. Her fascinating story – from layperson, to devoutly Hasidic wife and mother, to celebrated filmmaker – defies convention, but to meet the graceful, pious woman is to understand that anything is possible.

Recently, I was privileged enough to sit down with the first time filmmaker, along with her stunning, unaffected young star and countrywoman, Hadas Yaron, to discuss the magic of moviemaking, the clandestine beauty of the Orthodox faith, and of course, divine inspiration.

Rama, what made you write this story?

“My community, the orthodox people, they don’t have a cultural voice. You don’t even see them in books, or anything with the arts, and I felt that it was time to have a little voice – cause its very little – and to just say something from within.”

Where did the idea come from?

“I was not always religious, it’s been 20 years since I made that choice. And one of the first things I saw (in my new faith) was a good friend who was about to marry her son in the evening, lost her mother that morning.  (As Hasidic people) we do funerals very fast, so she buried her at about 1 in the afternoon, and then she married her son at night.”

“It fascinated me, (this idea) of handling two opposites, This is the power of Judaism, it says, ok that’s one law, to bury a mother, and it’s another law, to marry a son…  and to do that, I just loved because such is life.”

How accurate were the cultural elements?

“They’re accurate. I get a lot of people from the Orthodox Community telling me how accurate this film is. But then again, it’s the story of a certain family; it’s not typical of anything. Being Orthodox means being very individual, being very private, and having your own private way of doing your spiritual work. It’s accurate with the way it looks, and the way people talk, but it’s also very very personal.”

Hadas, what attracted you to this role, and how familiar with the practices of the Orthodox community were you, coming into it?

“Well, I wasn’t familiar at all. We have the same holidays, because most of us are Jewish in Israel, but we celebrate it completely different. I didn’t know anything, and I learned a lot about Rama’s faith while making this movie.”

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One of the most indelible aspects of the film is the explosive and unrequited passion that exists between Shira (Yaron) and Yochay (Yiftach Klein).  How did you approach those scenes?

Burshtein: “I knew that the enigma of the relationship between man and woman is what I was most interested in. Passion is wanting something that you don’t have, and I made a whole film based on the power of wanting and restraining.”

“Hadas and Yiftach are not married and were not about to get married, so it was very complicated to try to recreate a real life relationship. But the fact that it was restrained made all of us think about it all the time. If they were to have a love scene, that energy would die, and I even questioned whether to include that almost kiss scene (when both characters are alone on the balcony). But it is an almost kiss scene and not a real one.”

Yaron: “I had never done a part where there was romance, and during rehearsals with Yiftach, I didn’t know how to act with him because I was shy about our whole love story being revealed in the movie.  But it worked out because I was embarrassed a lot, so there was always tension there.”

“It also helped that we didn’t rehearse a lot, so we did the scene until we got it and then Rama would tell us to leave it there so the tension would remain. She said that they have this unspoken connection without even knowing it, and it’s funny, that actually happened with Yiftach and I.”

The film is very closed-off and cluttered in certain ways. How did you go about designing the visual aspects to convey that emotional cloistering?

“I knew that the real location of this film was Shira’s heart, and the journey was about trying to figure out what she feels, so I went with the doors and the rooms and the house. This was a very low budget film as well, and I knew that all I had was the script, dialogue, character, and a frame; so a lot of the budget also went to clothes- colorful ones, and then the lighting and the frame. I was trying to say that the heart is very colorful and very small, but it’s on a wide screen, and also that even though it’s very claustrophobic, there’s a lot of room in there if we allow there to be.”

“The other important thing is that we as human beings only see fragments of the big picture; God sees the whole thing! So I went with that too.”

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Can you talk about casting… were the actors mainly Orthodox?

Rama: “The only religious actors (in the film) are the rabbi and the matchmakers. All of the extras were from the community as well, but the principal cast consisted of totally secular, professional actors.”

“It took us a whole year to cast everyone, not because people weren’t very talented, but because I didn’t know what I wanted. For a while, I thought that I was going to make a film with regular people, not actors, but the non-actors couldn’t handle the complexities of their characters.”

“Hadas came towards the end of the process. I had seen everyone in Israel, but then she walked in and started the audition and I just burst out laughing like crazy because I knew that I had found her. The beauty of Hadas is that she didn’t really understand what was happening. At one point I said to her, Hadas, you’re 20 and you might be a huge star, what are you gonna do? She just smiled at me- this not understanding is really her beauty and what came through so well in the character of Shira.”

“(In terms of) Yiftach Klein, he is a big star in Israel, and has played a pimp, a homosexual, and a cop (among many other roles), so I was not sure you could really believe him as this Orthodox guy. But his audition, and then his chemistry with Hadas were just perfect.”

Were you worried about any pushback from your community for revealing such intimate aspects of their lives in such a public way?

“I was scared, but I never thought that anyone, especially Orthodox people would see the film. You just don’t wake up at the age of 46 and decide to try to get money to make a movie; it’s virtually impossible, but for me it happened, so I felt that I was divinely guided. I was just waiting to see the signs to know that I had made the right choice, and I think the fact that the film made such a big impression outside of Israel, confirmed my instincts. Then my community couldn’t argue with the film’s (global) success and that certainly softened things.”