At its core, Fill the Void is a coming-of-age drama that tells the story of a girl’s fate in the aftermath of tragedy. What makes it such a beautiful film though, is how universal themes of love, marriage and the familial become interwoven within the complexities of religion and faith, offering an intimate window into the lives of the secluded Haredi Jewish community in Israel (with a light smattering of humour that comes at you from around the most unexpected corners).
The film opens with key themes and characters: Shira, 18-year-old Hasidic Israeli and her mother, Rivka, sneaking around in a modern-day grocery store to catch a glimpse of her arranged match for matrimonial happiness. We are later introduced to the rest of Shira’s family in the close-knit Jewish community, as they celebrate Purim (a holiday that commemorates Jewish people being saved from persecution in the ancient Persian Empire) and witness the unfortunate death of Shira’s much-loved older sister in childbirth. While brother-in-law, Yochay, is left to care for his son as a grieving widower (and eligible bachelor), the death also delays Shira’s promised match and leaves the family in disarray as they struggle to hold on to normality and keep the rest of the members together.
There are strong performances across the board, directed with a delicate touch by director, Rama Burshtein (an Orthodox Jew and woman herself). The score, script and technical aspects of the film are all tastefully curated to create the right mood for the main plot to move along. Actresses Hada Yaron (Shira) and Irit Sheleg (Shira’s mother, Rivka) portray the mother-and-daughter duo – we watch, as the astute Rivka, when propelled by grief and desperation, turn her shrewd gaze towards her own daughter and engineers circumstances that forces the starry-eyed Shira to mature and reevaluate her options.
The great thing about foreign films (and films in general) is their ability to push us to see past stereotypes of cultures and traditions that we know nothing about. On the surface, the film appears to be a heavy, heart-wrenching look into the topic of forced/arranged marriages within orthodox religious communities, but the truth is that this is a surprising, sensitive story that is able to worm its way into your heart and touch you to the core.
If there’s anything to conclude, its that the film deserves the recognition that it has received, with a win at 2012 Venice Film Festival Best Actress award and selection as the Israeli entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards.