Fill The Void, a first feature film written and directed by Israeli Rama Burshstein, offers a view of a fictional Hasidic family and their community. The world may be an uncertain place but not in Rabbi Aheron’s well to do family. Everyone knows their place and rules are set down and tightly followed. Burshstein opens her film in a brightly lit supermarket, where Rivka Aheron (Irit Sheleg) and her daughter Shira (Hadas Yaorn) appear to be surreptitiously shopping for a husband. Eighteen year-old Shira is excited to get a peek at her equally young prospective husband Pinchas. Catching him wiping his glasses clean on his clothing, Shira practically squeals with delight. This is love at first sight.
In this Hasidic community marriage is arranged and the likely bride and groom usually do not know each other. An offer of marriage usually comes from the boy’s family. There are arranged marriages in many traditional cultures. What Burshstein wants us to see is that arranged marriage is not a cut and dry contract. Flesh and blood and, yes, sexual desire, beat inside these matches.
Tragedy turns the story. Shira’s older sister Esther (Renana Raz), nine months pregnant, falls into a coma and dies. The child, a boy, lives. There is a funeral and then a circumcision. The community is shown always by the family’s side. Burshstein shoots in small rooms filled with lots of caring people. Esther’s husband Yochay (Yiftag Klein) is now alone with a motherless child. Rivka is beside herself mourning her daughter. The community begins to worry about the baby and a potential new wife, a widow in Belgium, is found for Yochay. Rivka fears losing her grandchild and decides that young Shira should marry Yochay. Shira is shocked by this proposal.
We see Shira as strong in her resistance to her mother and father and at first she rejects Yochay. But whatever her objections, Shira and the audience understand that her options are limited by her sense of duty and devotion to her family. Shira wants to marry. The question is what are her choices. Burshstein softens Shira’s dilemma by making Yochay an attractive character. He is portrayed as a sensitive, tender man both with Shira, and in earlier scenes, with his now dead wife Esther. Open and honest with Shira, they slowly get to know each other. Shira and Yochay are eventually drawn to each other and there is as close to a sex scene as you can get in such a story. Shira finally concedes and Burshstein shoots her as a beatific bride. Alone together following the wedding, Shira and Yochay may or may not live happily ever after. If not, I am sure Burshstein will tell you that unarranged marriages do not do so well either.
All of the characters in the film are lovingly drawn. Rama Burshstein is a member of the community she portrays and she takes great pains not to offend. She makes no judgments and takes us cautiously inside a community that is usually secreted away. In a press screening via Skype she confesses that she only shows what is allowable. The fact that a mother might sacrifice the happiness of her daughter to keep a grandchild near is glossed over. The young women in her film are eager to become brides and there is shame connected to the single woman in the community. The film pays no attention to any aspirations these young women might have beyond their traditional roles. Yet, Burshstein appears to be ambitious for something more for herself and has shown some degree of courage making her film. She has made a good first film. I look forward to seeing her next effort.
Barbara Castro is a Family Mediator and is currently working on a film project to introduce divorcing families to the benefits of mediation rather than litigation.