Fill-the-Void_

Taking its cue from the Hasidic Branch of Judaism that it so passionately profiles, Rama Burshtein’s Fill The Void is deeply complex, devoutly familial, and rigidly steeped in age-old traditions. Fortunately, this territory is near and dear to the writer/director, who elicits first-rate performances, particularly by the film’s leads, Hadas Yaron and Yiftach Klein, to tell the tale of a close-knit Orthodox community living in Tel Aviv. Xenophobic and clandestine, but also civic-minded and open-hearted, these are a people bound by duty and obligation, experiencing struggles that are often hauntingly familiar though at times, profoundly singular.

After consulting with her parents and rabbi, Shira (Yaron), the younger daughter in a well-to-do Hasidic family, has finally chosen the man she wants to marry. Though still a teenager, she can hardly wait to join her big sister, Esther (a luminous Renana Raz), as well as the rest of the neighborhood girls she grew up with, in the wives’ club. That’s because to do so is to avoid the fate of the community spinster (Hila Feldman), a woman who, though only in her 20’s, has become a sweet wreck, her gorgeous red hair uncovered as a reminder to everyone that she has not yet found a husband to remain publicly modest for.

Tragically, just as Shira’s nuptials are set in motion, Esther dies unexpectedly in childbirth, leaving behind a devastated family that now includes the newborn. Clouded by her grief and unable to be reasoned with for fear of losing her miracle grandkid, Shira’s distraught mother (Irit Sheleg) thrusts an impossible request upon her surviving daughter- give up her girlish dreams of love with her new match so that she can marry the widowed Yochay (Klein) thus preventing him from moving away and taking the motherless child with him.

Perhaps it’s not the typical dilemma facing most 18-year-old’s today, but Burshtein invests her story with such sincerity, heart, and devotion that it’s impossible not to be swept up in this delicate tale. She also gives her film a gauzy lightness and close quartered feel that invites us, not only into the innermost sanctums of her characters’ homes, but also the deepest chambers of their hearts. Whether chanting, dining, or mourning, these families do it together, affirming age-old traditions that are as beautiful as they are private, and it’s absolutely fascinating to watch. Ironically though, it’s because of the specific nature of this world that Fill the Void sometimes loses structure, sacrificing forward momentum to profile a devout albeit esoteric religiosity.

Fortunately, Burshtein’s skilled cast does their best to keep the emotions authentic and universal. Gorgeous Israeli newcomer, Hadas Yaron, is particularly fantastic; aptly showing us the weight of the world on young Shira, not to mention the terror-tinged lust brought about by her much older brother-in-law/new suitor. Her scenes with the talented Klein, himself a superstar in his native Israel, pack more heat in an unrequited glance than most Hollywood films do in gratuitous sex scene after sex scene. As Shira’s grief stricken mother, Irit Sheleg, also digs deep, making us understand how a woman could be blinded to her daughter’s misery by her own grief.

Though at times a bit slow moving and overly specific, Fill the Void is a gorgeous, fascinating glimpse into a cloistered culture that has very rarely been represented with such intimacy and affection. Passionately directed and superbly acted, it’s a must see for film lovers, romance buffs, and those simply wishing to be transported somewhere they’ve never been before.