PG (mature themes and brief smoking); 90 min.
The opening shot of Fill the Void captures the faces of a mother and daughter swiveling their heads, clearly searching for someone or something. The camera remains still as the women turn to scan the room, allowing the two to alternately shift into and out of focus.
Beautiful and mysterious, these first glimpses are an ideal primer for the Israeli film, which never rushes to spell out the meanings of its subtle and quiet moments.
The Hasidic mother and daughter turn out to be Rivka (Irit Sheleg) and 18-year-old Shira (the gifted Hadas Yaron). Theyre scouring a grocery store to scope out a young man whom Rivka and her rabbi husband Aharon (Chayim Sharir) hope Shira will consider marrying. One peek, and Shira is ready to be his wife. But before the pairing can be set in motion, tragedy befalls the family. Shiras older sister dies during childbirth, leaving her husband, Yochay (Yiftach Klein), a first-time father and widower.
Rivka fears Yochay will remarry and move abroad, taking her grandson along, so she proposes an alternative: Yochay should marry his late wifes sister, Shira. Both Yochay and Shira have reservations about this arrangement, understandably, and the film follows the pairs process of grappling with this potential outcome so soon after a heartbreaking loss.
Despite the charged storyline, the film remains understated. There are no histrionics, even when Shira feels the immense burden of her mothers expectations to marry a man she had never imagined loving. Yochay, too, feels the strain. But rather than resorting to anger or passive aggressiveness, he looks at Rivka and simply says, Youre pressuring me.
The characters and sequences in writer-director Rama Burshteins debut feature will look foreign to most American audiences. Yet, the story feels remarkably universal with its themes of loss and family loyalty, not to mention the realization that life may not align with our idealized expectations.
Marriage ceremonies are just one of the rituals highlighted in Fill the Void, which consists mainly of intimate scenes of everyday life, including a Purim celebration, a Shabbat meal and a bris. The only real indication of the world beyond this community occurs when rock music wafts into the apartment from the street outside. Close the window, Aharon tells Yochay.
Its a simple command, but there seems to be much more meaning beneath the surface.
In Hebrew with English subtitles.
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Stephanie Merry, The Washington Post