In Fill the Void we catch a glimpse into something most of us rarely see; life among the Haredi Jewish community, considered to be the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism, and it’s both fascinating and frustrating.
Young Shira (Hadas Yaron) is about to marry, but when the family’s older daughter unexpectedly dies leaving behind a newborn, everything for Shira changes. The father of the child decides he will wed a recently widowed woman in Belgium, meaning he would be leaving Tel Aviv and taking the child with him. This is unacceptable to Rivka, the mother-in-law who wants her grandson to remain, so a new marriage is arranged. Shira will now marry her older brother-in-law. “Let her marry someone of her own age,” says a family member.
The fascination comes from being able to observe a world of staunch tradition that may feel alien to many. The frustration comes from observing young Shira and the dilemma she faces, a dilemma that would not be an issue in our progressive world, but within the world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism where an unrelenting devotion to traditions and ideologies is rigidly maintained, it is everything.
Authenticity is guaranteed – writer and director Rama Burshtein is herself part of this community – and there’s a never a moment when the film feels false. Burshtein has chosen to film Fill the Void widescreen thus broadening the images. There’s a feeling of claustrophobia – we never see the outside world or the people in it – yet that claustrophobic feeling is offset by the wide look of the film; it gives space within what seems to an outsider as a cramped universe.
The film is short – it runs a standard length of just under ninety minutes – and while its style is one of slow, lengthy takes and close-ups that allow us to observe young Shira as she thinks and ponders her arranged future, it concludes faster than expected.
Even though young women in the world of Fill the Void are taught to accept and embrace the culture of arranged marriages, surprisingly they do have the right to refuse. What young Shira decides to do is the center of the story – it ultimately becomes a matter of will she or won’t she – but in truth the outcome is of no major surprise. What’s important is the observation and the tone of this delicate and intimate drama. It may be frustrating but the film ultimately earns our respect.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 90 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)