Fill the Void is an intimate, sensitive portrait of life, love, tragedy and tradition within the world of Israels ultra-Orthodox Jews. Writer-director Rama Burshtein turns her camera on her own community and presents a tender look at people bound by faith, ritual and traditional gender roles.
The story Burshtein tells reveals not just the patriarchy where rabbis, fathers and matchmakers decide who marries whom but the female power behind that insular mans world.
Shira (Hadras Yiron) is 18, marriage age. Her mother (Irit Sheleg) fairly obsesses over this, with anxious calls to a matchmaker and furtive check out this guy treks to the supermarket, where they can eyeball a potential mate without his knowing it.
All mama Rivka wants is a guy like the man her oldest daughter Esther (Renana Raz) married a good man of the faith who will provide for her and keep her close to home. Rivkas wishes become paramount when Esther dies in childbirth. Theres a grandchild to care for and dote on. Yochay (Yiftach Klein) cannot raise the baby himself. Hell need to remarry, perhaps to someone far away. And that sets a grief-stricken Rivka to scheming.
Hadras Yiron, sort of a younger Greta Gerwig look-alike, plays Shira as a mature-for-her-age 18-year-old. But not that mature. Shes indecisive. And shes not a young woman willing to marry her brother-in-law, which is her mothers plan. Thats too close, Shira thinks. Thats too Old Testament, the rest of us think. Yochay, who might have been the villain of this tale, is slow to warm to the idea as well.
As much as this community allows, Shira speaks her mind: This isnt right. She can seem flighty, which is age-appropriate. Her sadness and indecision truly come through in the music she lapses into as she plays accordion for the local school where she works.
Shes under the influence not just of her nagging mother, but of her armless spinster aunt (Razia Israeli) who long ago took to wearing the married womans head scarf just to stop the embarrassing questions, and of sad spinster-to-be Frieda (Hila Feldman), who figures she would be the right one to step in for the dead Esther.
Burshtein, whose film was Israels submission for this years Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (its in Hebrew with English subtitles), maintains the mystery of the story as she delicately films the people and traditions of this closed community. The men, with their beards, their archaic headwear and dark clothing, meet and sing and negotiate and plan. And the women serve tea and sit awaiting the mens decisions some of which the women have themselves set in motion.
Burshteins sharply observed film misses many opportunities to make broader statements on this subculture and refuses to pass judgment on it, no matter how limiting the life can look to an outsider. Fill the Voids greatest virtue is in the ways her characters take us beyond stereotypes, even as she questions the value system of a culture that is so focused on religion, marriage and procreation that it holds few attractions to those not born into it.