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Director-writer Rama Buhrstein's drama "Fill the Void" is an utterly absorbing look inside Tel Aviv's ultra-Orthodox community, one that immerses the audience in its world so completely that we see things from the characters' perspective and not from our own.
Shira (Hadas Yaron) is the youngest daughter of a prosperous Hasidic family. Her dream in life is to be married off to a Hasidic boy her own age, and as the movie begins, that process is beginning, as her parents are negotiating with a neighboring family to start the courtship.
Then, on the holiday of Purim, Shira's 28-year-old sister, Esther (Renana Raz), dies in childbirth. Shira's courtship plans are put on hold as she and her mother, Rivka (Irit Sheleg), take care of the baby while Esther's husband, Yochay (Yiftach Klein), tries to figure out what to do next.
When Yochay starts to consider remarrying, to a widow in Belgium, Rivka panics that he will take her only grandchild away to Europe. She comes up with a solution: to marry Shira off to Yochay in spite of the age difference and Esther's stated wish, should something happen, that Yochay marry her friend Frieda (Hila Feldman).
Buhrstein, whose assuredness belies the fact that this is her first film, captures this dilemma mainly through Shira's eyes. Mousy and obedient, she struggles with the conflicting pull of her heart's desires and her sense of duty to her mother and her late sister.
The Hasidic world the film inhabits is filled with such conflicts, and Buhrstein's observant storytelling captures them in detail. It's a community where men and women celebrate parties and weddings separately, but also a world in which the rabbi (Melech Thal) advises not only on spiritual matters but also on pragmatic issues such as helping an old woman buy the right oven.
Thanks to Buhrstein's sharp depiction, and Yaron's heartbreaking performance as Shira, "Fill the Void" fills the audience's absence of understanding of this community and its contradictions.
'Fill the Void'
An absorbing drama takes us inside Tel Aviv's Hasidic community through the eyes of a young woman torn between love and duty.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, July 12.
Rating • PG for mild thematic elements and brief smoking.
Running time • 90 minutes; in Hebrew with subtitles.