Fill the Void (2012): Rama Burstein’s Tale of Hassidic Family–Israel’s Entry for Foreign Language Film Oscar

Israel’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.

The young Israeli director Rama Burshtein makes an impressive and original feature debut with Fill the Void, a family tale set within the ultra-Orthodox Hassidic community in Tel Aviv.

Though grounded in a particular milieu, there is no need to know the manners and mores of this closed, clan-like family, in which a prearranged union is not only the norm but also a duty that many women actually yearn to fulfill.

Not so the film’s protagonist, Shira, who at 18 is the youngest daughter of the family. When the tale begins, the excited Shira is about to be married off to a promising young man of the same age and background, based on romantic love.

Unfortunately, her older sister, Esther, who is 28, dies while giving birth to her first child. The pain and grief that overwhelm the family postpone Shira‘s promised matrimony.

The lives of Shira and all those around her change dramatically, when an offer is made to match Yochay, the late Esther‘s husband, –to a widow from Belgium. Yochay feels it‘s too early, though he realizes that he must get married again for the samke of his child, if not for his own happiness.

When the girls’ mother finds out that Yochay may leave the country with her only grandchild, she proposes a match between Shira and the widower. As a result, Shira has to make a difficult, unbearable choice between her heart’s wish and her family duty.

The ensuing tale, which is genuinely touching, describes, step-by-step, Shira’s maturation and new consciousness as a young women, with her own needs and desires, and as a family member under different pressures from various members of the larger community.

When she tells the rabbi, “It’s not a matter of feelings,” he counters: “It’s only a matter of feelings,” “A deed must be done,” replies Shira, “and I want to do it to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Shira is beautifully played by Hadas Yaron, who deservedly won the Best Actress kudo at the Venice Film Festival. With minimal budget and maximum expressiveness, Hadas conveys through short, furtive glances, pursed lips, doubts and hesitations the inner psyche and soul of a loyal daughter and woman.

Sony Classic Release

Running time: 90 min