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

Israel’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

Fill the Void
Fill the Void (2012 film).jpg

Theatrical poster

The young Israeli director Rama Burshtein makes an impressive and original feature debut with Fill the Void (Hebrew: למלא את החלל – lemale et ha’ḥalal), a family tale set within the ultra-Orthodox Hassidic community.

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.

The production period took over a year for the casting to be completed, and another year for editing. Burshtein took a step-by-step approach, focusing first on the writing, then on getting funding, followed by shooting and editing.

Burshtein became the first Haredi Jewish woman to direct a film intended for wide distribution.

The film premiered at the 69th Venice Film Fest, Sep 1, 2012, and was later released in the US May 24, 2013.

Critical Status:

Fill the Void was well received by critics for its depiction of Haredi Jews and their lifestyle. It won seven Israeli Academy Awards, and lead actress Hadas Yaron won Best Actress for her portrayal of Shira at the Venice Film Fest.

Credits:

Directed, written by Rama Burshtein
Produced by Assaf Amir
Cinematography Asaf Sudry
Edited by Sharon Elovic
Music by Yitzhak Azulay
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics (US)
Release dates: September 1, 2012 (Venice Fest); October 18, 2012
Running time 90 minutes
Language Hebrew
Box office $2.4 million