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“I fell in love with the script,” Amir told me over the phone from Tel Aviv. “After I read the first draft, I told Rama that the film could have been shot in Poland 200 years ago, in New York, in Tel Aviv. It was that kind of film we were making.”
At the beginning of “Fill the Void,” we see Shira with her mother, Rivka (Irit Sheleg), nervously scouting a potential match in the dairy aisle of the supermarket. “You’ll have to do a lot of laundry,” her mother remarks skeptically, as the man wipes his glasses on his shirt. Shira, however, is impressed. A smile plays on her lips as she admires her potential suitor.
But events soon take a tragic turn. Shira’s sister, Esther (Renana Raz), dies during childbirth, leaving behind her husband, Yochai (Yiftach Klein), and a newborn son, Mordechai. When Yochai receives a marriage proposal from a family in Belgium, Rivka conspires to have him marry Shira instead, so as not to lose her only grandson. The idea might seem outrageous — and does seem outrageous, at first, to both Shira and Yochai — but the emphasis of the story, and of Yaron’s performance, is on Shira’s struggle with feelings of duty, desire and love.
“It wasn’t about being a religious girl,” Yaron said, explaining her approach to the character. “It’s about going through a process of growth, and growing up, and falling in love. It’s complicated, but it’s about emotions and choices that had to be made.”
Although female characters like Shira and Rivka are at the center of Burshtein’s story, “Fill the Void” presents a unique picture of a Hasidic family in other respects.
The film achieves a rare verisimilitude of speech and dress, bringing the viewer into what feels like a real Hasidic home, not a filmmaker’s facsimile of one. This extends even to the soundtrack, which, when we don’t hear male characters singing around the Sabbath table, or Shira playing the accordion, consists of contemporary Orthodox pop music.
More important, unlike most movies depicting the ultra-Orthodox, “Fill the Void” is not about a conflict between religious and secular societies, a crisis of faith or a struggle with forbidden desires, like homosexuality.