Orthodox World Provides Backdrop for Rama Burshtein's Universal Story

'Fill The Void' Offers Rare Glimpse Inside Hasidic Life

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By Ezra Glinter

Published May 21, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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The night before Rama Burshtein shot the last scene of “Fill the Void,” she couldn’t sleep. It was going to be her last day on set, and a large group of extras was scheduled to arrive, including her own children. More daunting, she was going to be shooting a wedding scene, one of the film’s crucial moments.

“I was crying and saying: ‘Listen, God, I know what it is to get married. This is really holy. This is really deep. You can never shoot that,’” Burshtein recalled. “And I was crying because suddenly I didn’t understand what I was doing.”

Burshtein, 46, was sitting in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan, fielding questions prior to the film’s American release on May 24. She is a heavyset woman with an energetic interview style that suggests both candor and confidence. Her head covering — a pink, turbanlike affair matched with gold earrings and a black dress — stood out against the Waldorf’s avocado wallpaper.

An Unorthodox Journey: Writer-director Rama Burshtein holds court in the Waldorf Astoria.
Nate Lavey
An Unorthodox Journey: Writer-director Rama Burshtein holds court in the Waldorf Astoria.

Next to her on the sofa, Hadas Yaron, the 23-year-old star of the movie, curled up and listened with admiration as Burshtein recounted the morning of the shoot.

“I went to the set, and the weirdest thing happened,” Burshtein continued. “Everyone was different. The photographer, the actors, everyone was feeling differently than the day before. [Hadas’s] father — her real father — walked in and started crying because he saw his daughter in a wedding dress. It didn’t feel like we were making a movie.”

The scene is the culmination of a struggle that has been going on throughout the film: whether 18-year-old Shira Mendelman (Yaron), a Hasidic woman from Tel Aviv, will sacrifice the opportunity to marry a boy her own age in order to wed her late sister’s husband and keep her family together.

Since it premiered in 2012 at the Venice International Film Festival, where Yaron won the Volpi Cup for best actress, “Fill the Void” has become the latest darling of Israeli cinema. At home it won seven Ophir Awards, including best film and best director, and has been praised widely for telling a story of universal appeal, despite being extremely specific in its details.


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