Love and marriage inside a Jewish orthodox family, Rama Burshtein’s Fill The Void puts womanhood centre-stage in this moody relationship drama.
And God Created Woman by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Opening with a mother and daughter window-shopping at a local supermarket for potential husbands, Rama Burshtein’s debut feature Fill The Void scrutinises the budding loves of a young girl eager for an arranged marriage in Israel’s Hasidic Jewish community. An orthodox Jew herself, Burshtein’s film has none of the provocative taboo-busting or even the intimate family domesticity of Haim Tabakman’s Eyes Wide Open, but rather sweeps us into a closeted world of religious fervour and teenage romantic angst. It’s subtly profound in its gender politics, but ultimately, as we venture into the heart of a virgin looking for love, delicately touching.
Shira (Hadas Yaron) is turning 18 and as the youngest daughter of an orthodox Jewish family in Tel Aviv, it’s time for her to tie the knot. And while she’s eyeing up the city’s most eligible bachelors with her mother in the dairy aisle, fate has other ideas in store when her heavily pregnant older sister Esther (Renana Raz) dies during childbirth. While the family copes with the funeral and bringing up the baby, Shira’s wedding plans are put on hold. But when Esther’s husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) threatens to remarry and move to Belgium, Shira’s mother Rivka (Irit Sheleg) hatches a new plan to keep her grandson close and her daughter happily married.
With a legion of formidable women, from Shira’s battle-axe mother Rivka (on the warpath to find a husband for her daughter and to keep her grandson in Israel) and her armless but steely sister Hanna who wears the tichel rather than suffer of the shame of the single woman, to Frieda, the unmarried twenty-something desperate to escape spinsterhood, being a woman isn’t always easy. And as much as there’s an antechamber of mutually supportive women wiping away Shira’s tears in her wedding dress, or Shira deferring to Frieda’s claim on Yochay, there’s also plenty of female rivalry – a gnawing jealousy at a friend’s good luck at getting engaged or Frieda’s spurious assertion that Esther had named her as a suitable match for her husband should anything happen to her. And her brother-in-law’s deep offence, as Shira rejects Yochay’s advances (to allow Frieda the chance), reveals just how treacherous these intimate waters of emotional and familial honesty are.
While Fill The Void offers an intriguing insight into the sorority of women, Burshtein’s film is also a tumultuous portrait of the emotions of a teenage girl on the brink of adulthood. Its pastel-coloured emotional palette can at times be opaque or confusing, but it’s also beautifully evocative. Especially in the final reel when its camerawork becomes more fluid, framing Shira in a beautiful sequence davening and crying while her husband emerges in ritual from the darkness to claim her. Or the final scene in the newlyweds’ home, where Shira stands anxiously against the wall – simultaneously nervous, excited and in love.
Deliciously detailed and keenly insightful into the customs of Tel Aviv’s Hasidic Jews with their rigid gender lines, as a tableful of men sidle up to the rabbi for financial aid during Purim, and their buttoned-down family grief, sacrificed for the sake of the family, Rama Burshtein’s film is both intelligent and perceptive as it plumbs the awkwardness of a much-older brother-in-law slowly mutating into the object of a young woman’s affection, with all the emotional somersaults and betrayals that demands – all conducted with a virginal demureness. That Burshtein ultimately refuses to judge the community she comes from lends Fill The Void an enigmatic sheen, no doubt enjoyably nuanced for some while frustratingly hazy for others. But as a portrait of the emotional turmoil of a young girl on the brink of marriage, Fill The Void is a masterpiece of understatement, of religious ritual and youthful fervour.
Fill The Void is released on 13th December 2013 in the UK