A Void in Tel Aviv

She has been rejected by the match her parents were trying to make. He is newly widowed. A perfect match to fill the void? Well, not quite. She is a dewy-eyed 18-year old. He is the 30-somehing (?) husband of her newly deceased sister.

Fill the Void is an Israeli film that delves into the lives of a community of Hasidic Jews in Tel Aviv: their customs, their obligations, their perceived mishigoss.

It’s a beautiful film, but rendered in its entirety without explanation or rationale. The lifestyle is loving, but the obligations are overwhelming. Shira, (Hadas Yaron) the bewildered young heroine, is being manipulated by her mother to marry Yochay (Yiftach Klein) so that he will not move to Belgium to marry the widow he has been “offered” there.

It’s not that he isn’t a good man, and a handsome one. He is both. But the mother’s motivation is the baby boy her older daughter had died giving birth to. If Yochay goes to Belgium, so will the baby, Mordechay.

Eventually Yochay is persuaded to woo Shira, which he does tentatively, noting that she is “not a little girl any longer” and that she is “quite pretty.” This is not a very passionate approach, and Shira, understandably, remains unconvinced.

In a heartbreaking scene she questions him about his love for her sister and the joy and wonder of experiencing love for the first time, adding, “You are depriving me of that.”

Rama Burshtein, who wrote and directed the film, makes very clear that marriages are never forced in the Orthodox community, but there can be not-very-subtle pressure on the young girl being “offered” for marriage. And on the young man as well. It appears that everyone has a say in the match.

Burshtein tells her story without prejudice or judgment. She obviously hopes that her audience will view it in the same way, but that’s extremely difficult to do, even though the principals are presented with sweetness and grace. Soft lighting, slow pacing, and elegant photography are also part of the mix, but nevertheless, this is a hard premise for an “emancipated” secular American to find acceptable.

Fill the Void was Israel’s official entry at the Toronto International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival in 2012, where Hadas Yaron won the Best Actress Award. The film is scheduled to open in America shortly.

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