Movies: Fill The Void

The Haredi are an ultra-Orthodox sect of Jews (Chasidim to Americans) in Israel. In Tel Aviv, Esther (Renana Raz) is about to give birth to her first child. When she dies in childbirth, the baby boy Mordechay survives. Esther’s mother Rivka (Irit Sheleg) is afraid she’ll lose her grandson if her son-in-law Yochay (Yiftach Klein) follow through on a plan to marry a woman in Belgium and move there. So, she suggests that Yochay marry her younger daughter Shira (Hadas Yaron, winner of the Isrealie equivalent of the Academy Award and the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival for this role).

As she opens the door to her sister’s widower Yochay (Yiftach Klein) and her new nephew, Shira (Hadas Yaron) is opening the door to touch decisions.
Photo by Karin Bar – © 2013 – Sony Pictures Classics

Directer Rama Burshtein was born in New York City. Her family moved to Tel Aviv when she was a year old. After graduating from film school in Israel she became ultra-Orthodox. She had four children and didn’t attempt a career in film until just a few years ago. Fill The Void is the result of that attempt. It is a very successful “attempt.”

The Haaredi inhabit a world closed to others. It has its ingrained traditions and, looking in from outside, they can seem both odd and all-consuming. It is the opening of the door to that world — in addition to the fine writing and acting — that make the movie especially intriguing.

Burshtein not only opens the door, she fully illuminates the subject matter. Hadas Yaron, for her part, provides in the person of Shira, a young girl filled with passion, confusion and kindness whom we like immensely. Like all others in the community, she, her family and her sister’s widower must rely on the rabbi for advice in all important decisions and some not-so-important to those who don’t have to make them. At one point, while Shira, Yochay and her father are consulting with the rabbi, he interrupts their talk to advise an old woman on what stove to buy.

As Yochay, Yiftach Klein, is very intriguing. Filled with anguish at the loss of his wife, the responsibility for his newborn son and the need to decide how to move on with his life, he is a compelling figure.

As a look into a culture and way of life that is unknown to most of of us, Fill the Void is a most interesting film. Nitpickers might notice that the subtitles spell “Mordechai” with a “y,” not the “i” we use in the USA and the translation of the lines from Psalm 137 are not translated as is traditional in America but, otherwise, the movie opens the window wide.

As a look at human behavior operating under the constraints of rules and traditions, Fill the Void is a very moving, impactful story. And you don’t have to be Jewish to like it.

Fill the Void is playing in Las Vegas only at Regal Village Square.