You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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: 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.

Fill the Void


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

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. More Reviews Album Review: Maggie [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. More Reviews Album Review: Maggie Rogers' 'Heard It [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. More Reviews Album Review: Maggie Rogers' 'Heard It in a Past Life' Concert [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. More Reviews Album Review: Maggie Rogers' 'Heard It in a [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. More Reviews Album Review: Maggie Rogers' 'Heard It in a Past Life' Concert Review: [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content