It’s a situation we’ve seen before: tragedy strikes and a community comes together to help those affected. But the circumstances, and indeed the community, of this movie are likely different than the ones you’re used to seeing on the screen.
Shira is a young woman with dreams of love and her future family in an Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community. Her older sister, expecting her first child, is found unconscious on the floor during a family holiday. Her husband, Yochay, is then left a widower with a young child. In all the pain and loss, a new problem arises: Should Yochay marry again, Shira and her family could lose the right to help raise the child.
As distinct as Fill the Void is in the culture it portrays, it’s all the more so in that these sorts of women’s movies are hardly made anymore. Director Rama Burshtein’s film holds on to the woman’s viewpoint inside of a man’s world. Men and women are separated, almost like in Edwardian England, where marriages are arranged by parents instead of potential newlyweds. And surprisingly, it does question the practice of such stringent social codes. One of Shira’s friends is a woman that has passed her years of childbearing without netting a husband. She is treated with sympathy by Shira, even if others glibly gossip about her. There are friendships, mother-daughter relationships, and even frenemies in the women’s circle. This is a very real, lived-in world.
Shira is depicted as a strong character, despite looking like she has bowed to social and family pressure. The solution to keep Yochay and baby close to the family is to have Shira marry him. Her mother believes it to be a perfect, Torah-sanctioned solution, but Shira’s father is hesitant. Shira is nearly a decade younger than her groom-to-be. He ultimately gives his daughter the choice. We then see her grapple with the reality of her decision: forgoing her own betrothal and jumping into a family immediately. The decision does not come easy, and the audience feels it.
Fill the Void is rich in color, and although its characters are not in ball gowns and tuxes, there is an elegance to the way Burshtein captures their clothes in the light, moving along sidewalks, or even neatly folded while the wearer is seated at the dinner table. (I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so much lace.) Despite dealing with so much tragedy, the characters’ emotions are restrained, almost as if it’s inappropriate to be seen crying.
To fill the void, means to simultaneously gain and lose. For Shira, she is keeping her family together at the cost of her own ambitions. It’s a kind of self-sacrifice not seen in American films. Burshtein captures these delicate moments brilliantly. As part of an Orthodox Hasidic community, she builds a bridges between her insular society and the most likely secular audience that will want to tear Shira out from the confines of the situation. But that’s not what Fill the Void is about. Shira chooses to tie her family back together and help her community heal. And we have to respect that choice as well.
Director: Rama Burshtein
Writer: Rama Burshtein
Starring: Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg
Release Date: May 24, 2013