Movie review: 'Fill the Void’ tests traditional values

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTESeptember 20, 2013 

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Irit Sheleg, Hadas Yaron, Hila Feldman and Razia Israeli in “Fill The Void,” an exploration of Hasidic Jewish culture.

  • FILL THE VOID

    •••

    Rated: PG for mild thematic elements and brief smoking. Starring: Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg. Director: Rama Burshtein. Running time: 90 minutes. Language: Hebrew with English subtitles.Theater: Flicks.

Joy in “Fill the Void” is overflowing but short-lived.

The movie, set in Tel Aviv in an Orthodox Hasidic family, opens on Purim, a Jewish feast commemorating Esther’s deliverance of the Jews in Persia from a massacre plotted by Haman.

Eighteen-year-old Shira (Hadas Yaron) is bursting with excitement at the prospect she may marry. Her older sister, Esther, is married, nine months pregnant and radiant.

The wine and rabbi’s benevolence are flowing, and Esther’s husband, Yochay (Yiftach Klein), is besotted with happiness. “You are everything to me,” he says to his wife not long before she unexpectedly dies in childbirth.

The balance of the movie revolves around the question of finding another mate for Yochay and mother for the baby. Already devastated by the loss of a daughter, Esther and Shira’s mother says it will be the end of her if Yochay and the infant move out of the country.

A proposal to keep the pair at home is made but it could come with a high cost for Shira, in particular, in this ultra-Orthodox world.

Writer-director Rama Burshtein opens a window on a way of life literally foreign to many. Rabbis are an essential part of any key decisions, and while it might be an exaggeration to say unmarried women are pitied, they are often consoled over their single status — obvious to strangers by their visible hair.

Everyone in the family, including a maiden aunt whose arms are missing or deformed under her empty sleeves and who must rely on others to feed and assist her, has an opinion about what Shira should do.

“Fill the Void” weighs the good of one against the good of all and asks if sacrifice and happiness can coexist.

The language (Hebrew) wasn’t as much of a barrier for me as some of the rituals and prayers, and the celebration of marriage for marriage sake is very 1950s to modern Americans.

One engagement seems to come out of the blue and another decision is dramatically prolonged, although the movie is beautifully illuminated and shot.

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