Fill The Void, film review: 'An insider's view on Orthodox Hassidic life'

A delicately directed drama with themes recognisable to any audience
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The writer-director Rama Burshtein’s drama about arranged marriage is set in an Orthodox Hassidic community in Tel Aviv.

Burshtein, an American Israeli film-maker who is part of such a community herself, gives us an insight into Orthodox life that no documentary could provide.

It helps that this is an insider’s view and that she is dealing with such primal emotions as love and bereavement. “It is not a matter of feelings,” one character declares as a marriage is planned. “It is only a matter of feelings,” is the response.

Shira (Hadas Yaron) is an 18-year-old on the verge of being married off. As the story starts, we see her spying on her prospective husband across the aisles of a supermarket. When her older sister Esther (Renana Raz) dies in childbirth, plans change. Some in the family want her to take the dead sister’s husband.

Fill the Void largely takes place in interiors. There are frequent scenes of mothers in kitchens plotting their daughters’ futures and of men sitting around tables. We get little sense of the world beyond the community or of how it supports itself. (The Rabbi dispenses money for old women to buy ovens or for men to pay for jewellery for their wives.)

The director has talked of her desire to give the Orthodox community an “artistic and cultural voice”. It’s a measure of her success that the settings, dress and rituals soon become secondary. Fill the Void works because it’s a well-written, delicately directed drama with themes recognisable to any audience.