Hadas Yaron     Yiftach Klein     Irit Sheleg     Chayim Sharir


 The story opens with 18 year-old Shira (Hadas Yaron) looking at her promised intended from afar and elatedly announcing to her older sister that she is going to be married.  In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, marriages are arranged by the parents, with consultation from the Rabbi, and following a pact made with another family.  Shira’s mother has pointed out her fiancé in a store so she knows what he looks like.  (She has never met him before.)  However, fate delivers a blow when her sister—who is pregnant—goes into premature labor.  The baby survives, but the mother does not, leaving her husband Yachay (Yiftach Klein) a young widower in his thirties with an infant to care for.

 In our culture, relatives and friends usually step in under such circumstances, supporting the father and child, and the man’s future is then up to him.  Not so in a Jewish Orthodox family, pressure is put on him in short order to “fill the void.”  In this story, Yachay has a number of options, one of which is suggested by his mother-in-law who has grown attached to her new grandson.  She reasons that if he marries her younger daughter Shira, they will all live happily ever after.  In considering only her point of view, she is completely unaware of the feelings of the other parties involved.  

 And this is the dilemma the writer/director Rama Burshtein explores.  In quiet conversations, we hear each of the protagonists’ reactions, with Shira’s being the most complex and agonized.  Hadas Yaron’s portrayal of a young girl suddenly faced with such pressure brings emotional resonance and depth to the film.  Yachay is much older, has been married and has a child—with her sister, no less—and Shira has her heart set on someone else.  To add to the burden, it is clear that her mother will be extremely upset if she declines.  Both her parents repeat to her that it is entirely her decision, but her mother’s strong sentiments essentially neutralize that freedom.  Yachay plays a significant role in opening up to the idea, but he discusses it with Shira in such a way that she is completely turned off, and he ends up feeling wounded and angry with her and begins to consider other alternatives.

 Burshtein was born in New York, but her family moved to Tel Aviv when she was small.  When she  married, she chose to embrace Orthodox Hassidic Judaism to which her husband ascribes.  In her films, she is interested in publicizing this culture and its beliefs, and in Fill the Void, she wants us to know that “a real love story [can] happen in the Orthodox world”, where marriages are arranged, fathers are patriarchs in the family, and the rabbi is the leader of the community.  She holds strongly to her religion, and when asked what the hardest part of making this film was, she replied, “not to forget God.”  She wants to offset the pull toward pride and self-centeredness that is often part of the filmmaking experience.

 Fill the Void has been a hit at film festivals, where it has won numerous awards from the Israeli Film Academy and the Venice Film Festival, and was nominated for Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay.  My personal reaction to the film was mixed.  Seeing through the window into a very different culture from my own is fascinating; on the other hand, I find the concepts of arranged marriages, patriarchal systems, and such highly proscribed rules of behavior anathema.

Grade:  B

By Donna R. Copeland