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Fill the Void

An increasingly and bitterly contested area of life in Israel, one largely overlooked by the country’s sympathizers in the US, Jew and Gentile both, is the place and privileges of the so-called ultra-Orthodox. Since shortly after Israel’s founding, this ever-larger minority has been mostly exempted from the expectations and duties of other citizens, including military service. They are subsidized by the public so that the men may devote themselves to Talmudic studies, and they seek to curtail practices in the larger society they disapprove of and institute ones they deem necessary, like gender-segregated public transportation.

Rama Burstein’s Fill the Void (a somewhat uninformative title) offers a view of life in this increasingly important subculture, but doesn’t address any of its relations or problems with the larger society. This sometimes engrossing but too often frustrating film concentrates on portraying a vignette illustrating the mores and attitudes in ultra-orthodox communities regarding marriage and, in particular, women’s assumptions and responsibilities.

Shira (Hadas Yaron), an unmarried, apparently satisfied and unconflicted 18-year-old has happy relations with her parents and her married elder sister Esther (Renana Raz) as she awaits a proposal of marriage of her own. When Esther suddenly passes away, leaving not only a widower but an infant child, Shira’s life is altered in dramatic ways she hadn’t anticipated. It becomes increasingly apparent that her mother wants her to marry her brother-in-law Yochay (Yiftach Klein) so that he won’t seek a bride in another country and take the grandchild away.

Burstein achieves some sense of this somewhat insular, strongly knit way of life. She favors close-ups and static shots and shadowed interiors, conveying a feeling of enclosure and self-sufficiency. The performances are of a high caliber, but the writer-director has let her actors and audiences down by flattening the dramatic arc of her movie and resolving Shira’s almost paralyzing doubts in an unclear and arbitrary fashion.

The movie sometimes seems as obscure and impenetrable as the ultra-Orthodox society can seem to outsiders.

Watch the trailer for Fill the Void

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