×

Fill the Void

With "Fill the Void," Rama Burshtein's impressive debut, there's so much skill on display that auds disinclined to look kindly on pics presenting marriage as a woman's ultimate goal will struggle to find technical faults.

With:
With: Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg, Chaim Sharir, Razia Israely, Hila Feldman, Renana Raz, Yael Tal, Michael David Weigl, Ido Samuel, Neta Moran, Melech Thal.

Problems of reception always arise when religious directors choose to celebrate their communities. With “Fill the Void,” Rama Burshtein’s impressive debut, there’s so much skill on display that auds disinclined to look kindly on pics presenting marriage as a woman’s ultimate goal will struggle to find technical faults. Stunningly shot in shallow focus, giving the ladies a soft incandescence, the film looks with great sympathy on a young woman being pressured by her mother to marry her late sister’s husband. Sure to generate hours of post-cinema discussion, “Void” will fill seats at fests and targeted art houses.

The press notes say that Burshtein previously made films for the Orthodox Jewish community, “some of them for women only.” It’s unclear exactly what kinds of pics these are, but it’s evident the helmer, a formerly secular Jew who joined the Haredim (the ultra-Orthodox), knows what she’s doing as she shines a uniquely femme-centric light on this generally hidden world. Her women are strong while accepting their circumscribed roles: The pic could carry the subtitle “Rabbis Are a Girl’s Best Friend” without a shred of irony.

Yet it’s too easy to be dismissive of the p.o.v., and while many might be disappointed by an ending that seems like a copout, it’s worth contemplating parallels between Burshtein’s expertly written characters and the figures populating the novels of Jane Austen, the helmer’s stated influence. Of course, Austen’s women have longer courtships, aren’t forced to cover their heads after marriage and, crucially, live in the early 19th century.

Purim is a joyous holiday, but it turns tragic for the well-to-do family of Rabbi Aharon (Chaim Sharir) when elder daughter Esther (Renana Raz) dies giving birth to baby Mordechai. Only the infant can offset the grief of mother Rivka (Irit Sheleg), sister Shira (Hadas Yaron, outstanding) and husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein). Shira, 18, was looking with favor on a prospective arranged match, but with Esther’s death, her father can’t face the idea of an empty nest and postpones marriage plans for his youngest.

Rivka and Shira care for Mordechai, and though a still-grieving Yochay enjoys a close rapport with his in-laws, his mother urges him to look for a new wife who can raise the baby. For Rivka, taking Mordechai away would be an unbearable trial, and she hits on the idea of pairing Yochay with Shira.

The thought hadn’t crossed Yochay’s mind, and it’s certainly not Shira’s dream of her future. In a beautifully written piece of dialogue — conversations have the satisfying appeal of perfectlyconstructed dances — the headstrong young woman tells her brother-in-law she wants what he and her sister had: a match between two virginal equals. Pressures from her family mount, with Rivka pushing for the marriage and a heartbroken Aharon practically inert, yet the decision rests with Shira.

Burshtein is keen to show that women in the Haredi community — on the sidelines but always watching — have a voice that’s valued, and Shira is the perfect vehicle. Modeled on strong-willed Austen figures on the threshold of womanhood, Shira doesn’t always know what she wants but is reluctant to let anyone else decide for her. The sympathetic Yochay coaxes her into finding her voice, respecting her force while making certain it’s properly directed.

Fill the Void” is unarguably a partisan romance, throwing a golden light (at times literally) on the Haredi community, and although Shira is resolutely her own woman, there’s no denying her limited options. Family friend Frieda (Hila Feldman, memorable in a difficult role) and handicapped aunt Hanna (Razia Israely, strong) are pathetic figures because they’re old maids, and there’s no suggestion that a fulfilling life can exist outside the marriage bond. Many crix will likely point out that while Burshtein has a career, none of the women here have lives outside home and synagogue.

As a window into an insular community helmed by an insider, the film offers a more nuanced picture than Gidi Dar’s gentle comedy “Ushpizin.” Tellingly, that pic was directed by a secular man but scripted and starring ultra-Orthodox performers, whereas “Void” is made by a Haredi woman yet stars secular thesps. Ensemble playing is faultless, with special kudos to Yaron.

D.p. Asaf Sudry (“Beaufort”) never fails to impress, using shallow focus to fix the gaze on the women while bathing them in a soft-edged luminescence. Close-ups offer a level of intensity that never feels obtrusive, and lighting is assisted by Chani Gurewitz’s superb costume designs that further soften the actresses’ faces. A great deal of music is used, all fitting naturally within the ultra-Orthodox community where prayers are regularly chanted rather than spoken (but not by women). Burshtein’s decision to film in Israel’s “sin city” of Tel Aviv (her home) rather than Jerusalem lets her show a world where Haredi and secular society live in separate but non-antagonistic spheres.

Popular on Variety

Fill the Void

Israel

Production: A Norma Prods. production. (International sales: the Match Factory, Cologne.) Produced by Assaf Amir. Directed, written by Rama Burshtein.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Asaf Sudry; editor, Sharon Elovic; music, Yitzhak Azulay; production designer, Ori Aminov; costume designer, Chani Gurewitz; sound, Moti Hefetz; sound designer, Aviv Aldema; line producers, Adar Shafran, Roni Abramovsky; casting, Michal Koren. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 1, 2012. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Discovery; New York Film Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.

Cast: With: Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg, Chaim Sharir, Razia Israely, Hila Feldman, Renana Raz, Yael Tal, Michael David Weigl, Ido Samuel, Neta Moran, Melech Thal.

More Scene

  • US record producer The-Dream arrives for

    Top Music Publishers Come Together for Songs of Hope Honors

    The 15th annual Songs of Hope honors united songwriters, music industry insiders and more than a few preeminent doctors at producer Alex Da Kid’s Sherman Oaks compound on Thursday night. Jimmy Jam returned to host the event, which served as a fundraiser for the ever-vital City of Hope medical treatment center as well as a [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Keke Palmer BlogHer19 Summit

    Keke Palmer Brought to Tears Accepting Truth Teller Award at #BlogHer19 Creators Summit

    Keke Palmer stood surprised and wide-mouthed on the #BlogHer19 Creators Summit stage as she was presented with the Truth Teller Award for her recent acting work — and her viral “sorry to this man” clip. “This means so much,” the multi-hyphenated star softly whispered as she got teary-eyed upon accepting the award. Last week, the [...]

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 19:

    Emmys 2019: Inside All the Hottest Pre-Parties

    It’s (Emmys) party time! Before the 71st annual Emmys go live on Sunday, stars and execs are keeping busy by party-hopping in the days leading up to the big show. Here, Variety gives you the inside details on who was where and what they were doing. Keep checking back right here throughout the weekend for [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez Green Dress

    Jennifer Lopez Closes Out Versace Show in Famous Green Grammys Dress

    Jennifer Lopez has found her way back into the Versace dress that broke the internet in 2000. The “Hustlers” star closed out Versace’s Spring 2020 show in a re-worked version of the revealing, bright green silk chiffon dress that she wore to the Grammy Awards 20 years ago. The dress quickly became a pop-culture phenomenon, [...]

  • 10 Storytellers to Watch

    Variety Celebrates Inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch Event

    Storytellers from across the spectrum of entertainment — film, literature, podcasting and play writing — were honored Thursday at Variety’s inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch luncheon at Gramercy Park Hotel, hosted with partner the Independent Filmmaker Project and presented by Audible. Honorees Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of “Friday Black”; “Limetown” podcasters Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie; [...]

  • Demi Moore Corporate Animals

    Demi Moore Teases Upcoming Memoir 'Inside Out,' Talks 'Corporate Animals' Team Bonding

    As Demi Moore gears up for the Sept. 24 release of her autobiography “Inside Out,” the actress says she feels like a weight has been lifted. “Even the stuff that I may have been nervous about is completely lifting…because it’s a process,” Moore told Variety at the premiere of her upcoming film “Corporate Animals” at [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content