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A devout 18-year-old Israeli is pressured to marry the husband of her late sister. Declaring her independence is not an option in Tel Aviv's ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community, where religious law, tradition and the rabbi's word are absolute. Written by
Sundance Film Festival
The Israeli film Lemale et ha'halal was shown in the United States with the title "Fill the Void" (2012). It was written and directed by Rama Burshtein. Other films exist about highly observant Jews, both in Israel and the U.S. However, this movie is unusual because the director herself if part of the orthodox community. She knows how people act, what they say, how they celebrate, and how they mourn.
As in many communities where a woman's outside options are limited, marriage is a central and crucial moment in their lives. Matches are arranged, but the woman always has the right to turn down a prospective suitor. Even so, the decision about whom to marry is critically important.
The wonderful young Israeli actor Hadas Yaron plays Shira, whose time for marriage has come. A match has been made, and Shira is excited about meeting the young man and, presumably, falling in love with him. Then tragedy strikes. Shira's loving older sister dies in childbirth, leaving behind a baby boy and a widower. In order to keep the family together, it is suggested that Shira marry the baby's father. He appears to be a fine man, but he's older than she is. Also, as Shira points out, she had dreams of exploring marriage with a young man, not with a previously-married man who has a child.
It would have been easy for the director to craft a story where the whole community is pushing Shira to marry Yochay, her late sister's widower. That's not how the film was crafted. Everyone respects Shira's right to decide, and Yochay isn't desperate, either. A match has been made for him with a woman from Belgium. (The problem is that he'd have to move to Belgium to be with her, and, of course, he'd take his infant son with him.)
You'll have to see the film to find out what happens next. However, the movie is far more than just a vehicle for a plot. It's an intimate look into the lives of the ultra-orthodox, and into the heart and mind of a young woman who wants to do what is right, but also what is best.
Fill the Void won six Israeli Academy Awards, including Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Film. Hadas Yaron won the Best Actress award at the 2012 Venice Film Festival.
We saw this film at Rochester's Dryden Theatre as part of the exceptional Rochester Jewish Film Festival. I think it will work better on a large screen than on DVD, but it's worth searching for it and seeing it on a small screen if necessary. For reasons I can't understand, this movie has a lukewarm IMDb rating of 6.6. Why? It's a brilliant film and deserves to be seen. Ignore the low rating, and don't miss "Fill the Void."
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