Fill the Void
Elegant, claustrophobic drama about Orthodox Jewish traditions from Rama Burshtein
Where does family loyalty end and personal autonomy begin? This elegant but claustrophobic drama, written and directed by Rama Burshtein, a member of the closed-off Orthodox Jewish community that it depicts, sets its struggle between duty and instinct in the aftermath of a tragedy.
A young woman, Esther (Renana Raz), has died in childbirth, leaving her husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) heartbroken and with a newborn to care for. Determined to keep her infant grandson within the family circle, Esther’s mother (Irit Sheleg) promptly offers up her 18-year-old daughter (and the dead woman’s sister) Shira (Hadas Yaron) as a replacement bride for Yochay. But Shira is aghast at the prospect, and Yochay, duly rejected, begins to look elsewhere – and much further afield. Cue no shortage of melodrama from the mother-in-law (‘Pray for me to have the strength to survive this!’), and an emotional dilemma for Shira, who must decide whether she can shelve her reservations in the name of family unity.
The acting is of a high standard, with particular kudos due to Yaron as Shira, who achieves the startling effect of actually maturing from a girl into a woman over the course of the film (and who won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for her work). The cinematography, dominated by stuffy indoor settings, forbidding faces and gloomy colours, has an oppressive sort of grandeur. The complexity of interaction within families and marriages is also skilfully observed. But the intense focus on a story that is essentially one long ‘will they/won’t they’ ultimately gives the film a rather restricted feel – it’s like listening in on a conversation in which the same points keep being made. In the end, it’s hard to determine whether Burshtein is celebrating or critiquing the insularity and strict traditions of the community that she herself joined in her 20s – but presumably that’s part of the point.
Limited release from Fri 13 Dec.