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Fill the Void
2012 - PG - 90 Mins.
Director: Rama Burshtein
Producer: Roni Abramowsky, Assaf Amir, Adar Shafran
Written By: Rama Burshtein
Starring: Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg, Chayim Sharir
Review by: David Rolston
Official Site:

Seen but not heard
The 2012 Israeli film "Lemale et ha'halal" (english title "Fill the Void") is a patient film that pulls back the curtain on the circumspect lives of a community of Hasidic Orthodox Jews in modern Day Tel Aviv. Writer/Director Rama Burshtein tells the story of two sisters: Esther (Renana Raz) is about to give birth to her first child with her husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) while eighteen year old Shira (Hadas Yaron) is poised to enter into an arranged marriage to a young man she has only seen once in the local supermarket.

The film works in its early moments as a study of Hasidic custom and practice, which for most audiences is both mysterious and quaint. Wisely, Burshtein doesn't dwell on this documentary aspect of the story beyond what is needed to support the story. The characters are simply presented as they are, without explanation or embellishment. It would be hard to place the action in modernity if not for a few brief glimpses of life outside the kitchens and parlors where most of the film takes place. The characters dress in their traditional clothing, and frequently engage in religious conversations, burst into song and euphoria, all in keeping with the ideals of Hasidic custom. The film's thematic soundscape of Hebrew, intermixed with traditional folk and religious music creates an atmosphere that gives one the feeling that the film could easily be taking place hundreds of years in the past.

With an economy typical to the film, Burshtein provides a scene where the pulsing drums and base of modern dance music washes up from the street, intruding on the illusion of seperation from the present, forcing both the audience and its characters to acknowledge the otherworldliness of their way of life. This is a story of modern people in modern times, who despite their familial, religious and societal choice to reject the secular world, will still have to confront each other and make decisions that need to be universally relatable if the film is to succeed.

Wisely, "Fill the Void" focuses on the emotional lives and reactions of the women portrayed in the film. In particular, Hadas Yaron's much lauded portrayal of Shira captures the ennui of a young woman who has been raised in a Patriarchal society to be dutiful, patient and obedient while bound by restrictive customs and expectations. For her entire life she has been expected to wait patiently while the most important decisions affecting her are prescribed and set in motion by the men in her family and community. Yaron exudes longing and desire for her emergence as an independent young bride. It is her reaction to a tragedy and the associated melodrama that develops in its wake that allows "Fill the Void" to hold its audience beyond the initial sociological curiosity.

The film is deliberate and slow moving. The characters say very little to each other, given their predicament, while at the same time, the performances of the actors exude emotion and sentimentality. There aren't many plot twists or reversals in the film, but what it does exceptionally well is to leave room amongst the silence and the beautifully photographed and often luminous faces of its actors, for active questioning of the actions and motives of its subjects. These questions pile up over the course of the story, and will continue to provide for debate long after the final scene fades. Much like a great short story, "Fill the Void" provides ample room for its audience to engage with and interpret the story in a number of different ways, and this sets it apart from modern cinema, in a way that is both touching and intellectually satisfying for those with the patience to follow.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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