out of Five
Running time: 90
Writer-director Rama Burshtein's debut feature is a fascinating and emotionally gripping drama with a sharply written, understated script and a pair of terrific performances from Hadas Yaron and Yiftach Klein.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Rama Burshtein (making her feature debut), Fill The Void is set in present-day Tel Aviv and stars Hadas Yaron as Shira, an 18 year old Hassidic woman who's excited about the prospect of being married off to a man her own age, whom she has only glimpsed briefly at the supermarket. However, when her older sister Esther (Renana Raz) dies in childbirth, Shira is pressured by her mother Rivka (Irit Sheleg) into marrying her widowed brother-in-law Yochay
(Yiftach Klein), so that he doesn't leave the country and marry a woman in Belgium, taking the baby with him.
Newcomer Hadas Yaron (who occasionally resembles a brunette Greta Gerwig) is excellent as Shira and her thoughtful, expressive face is heart-breaking to watch; she also sparks intriguing chemistry with Yiftach Klein and plays a mean accordion to boot. Klein is equally good as Yochay and there's strong support from Irit Sheleg, Razia Israely (as Shira's armless aunt Hanna) and Hila Feldman as Frieda, an unmarried older friend of Shira's who complicates things by telling her that Esther once told her she should marry Yochay if anything ever happened to her.
Burshtein's emotionally gripping script is superb, resisting the temptations of melodrama and shouting in favour of something that is quietly understated, but no less powerful; as such, muted conversations are imbued with potentially life-changing consequences and Burshtein gives her characters plenty of room to think, allowing key moments to unfold with just a look (the moment Rivka realises Shira might be the solution to her agony is beautifully written and performed, for example).
The film offers a fascinating glimpse into an unfamiliar culture that's not often explored on screen. Consequently, it comes as something of a surprise to find that the film does not take a position
against arranged marriage, instead presenting it unchallenged, as a positive thing (although the brilliant final shot introduces a thought-provoking note of ambiguity). Accordingly, in the press notes
for the film, Burshtein cites Jane Austen as a major influence and it's easy to see the similarities between the two worlds.
In addition, the film is not without moments of humour (the opening scene in the supermarket, with Rivka and Shira spying on her intended fiancé is a particular highlight) and Burshtein orchestrates a number of memorable scenes and moments that will stay with you, such as Shira forgetting herself while playing her accordion in front of a roomful of children.
Superbly acted and sharply written, Fill the Void is an emotionally gripping drama that marks writer-director Rama Burshtein out as a future talent to watch. Highly recommended.