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FILL THE VOID – The Review

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Review by Barbie Snitzer

“Fill The Void” is an example of the kind of unique gift a movie can be.

There is no other way one could be an invisible witness to the closed world of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect of Hasidic Jews. Even if one promised to be as sensitive and non-judgmental as director Rama Burstein is in this, her début film, one would be rebuffed.

The Hasidim do not recruit new members.  Unlike other secretive religious communities, they have not been the subject of reality shows that exploit their unfamiliarity with the mainstream modern world.  They do not feel obligated to explain their appearance or behavior even when their culture clashes; Hasidic men will not look any woman in the eye, not just other Hasidic women.

It would be very easy for those unfamiliar with their culture to mock the opening scene.  Rivka (Irit Sheleg) is on a reconnaissance mission with her daughter Shira (the luminous Hadas Yaron) in a supermarket where Rivka points out to Shira the man who will be her husband.

He is not very handsome, he looks like a schmiel.  Shira visibly suppresses her disappointment; she wants to be married.

Her emotional suppression is not a harbinger of doom nor an opportunity for we outsiders to pass judgment.  In the absence of musical cues or acknowledgment that this is antiquated behavior, we become aware of the privilege we have been granted to observe this way of life.

We then meet Shira’s beautiful, very pregnant older sister Esther (Renana Raz) and her husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein).  Sadly, Esther dies in childbirth.  Her son, Mordechay, survives, and Shira easily takes on her sister’s maternal role.

This tragedy leads Shira’s parents to postpone her wedding.  The groom’s parents and Shira are impatient, applying pressure through other members of their tight-knot Orthodox clan to set a wedding date.  Rivka and Shira’s father, Aharon (Chayim Sharir), have become uncertain; they fear losing two daughters in quick succession.

Mordechay stays with Shira and Rivka while Yochay comes to visit every day. Understandably, Rivka has become very attached to her grandson.  Shira has essentially become his mother and is fortunately distracted so she is unaware her prospective groom’s parents have revoked their son’s eligibility for her.

In the Orthodox culture, being married and having children is of paramount importance, so it is not surprising when discussions of potential prospective brides for Yochay begin to sprout.  Yochay’s mother comes to visit Rivka and tells her a bride has been found.  She is a childhood friend, a widow with her own children who lives in Belgium.  Rivka is petrified of having to endure the loss of her grandson.  Losing him would create a void, a word that implies an active doom, not just a silent empty space.

At a moment when Rivka is trying to get her emotional bearings, she sees Shira caring for Mordechay.  One could easily believe Shira was Mordechay’s mother- Eureka!  Shira could fill the void left by Esther.

Even though marriages are not arranged by the bride and groom themselves, both parties must be agreeable.  To have the rabbi and their community accept this scenario is not a foregone conclusion.

Will Yochay agree?  Can he replace his beloved wife with her little sister?  Will the rabbi allow this marriage?  Will the community?  What about the other unmarried women, older than Shira, shouldn’t they be considered?  What about Shira?  She’s expecting a groom closer to her age. Will she agree to marry her brother-in-law?  Should Shira’s life be redirected for her mother’s happiness?  Is this the will of the Almighty?

Seeing the movie will answer all these questions and perhaps raise some more.

4 of 5 Stars

FILL THE VOID opens in St. Louis Friday, July 12th at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Theater

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