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20130611__130614wl-Fill the Void

The 2012 Israeli film “Fill the Void,” now being released in the U.S., is almost unique in being about haredi Jews and directed by a member of that sector. Haredi Jews are that sector of orthodox Jews who isolate themselves as much as possible from gentile, and indeed from all non-haredi society. The English term that is used is ultra orthodox but this, I think, is misleading. What distinguishes them from non-haredi orthodox Jews (known as modern orthodox) is not greater religious observance but the aforementioned isolationism. Put it this way, a modern orthodox Jew is more likely than a haredi to attend a baseball game, serve in the Israeli army, visit an art gallery, or read a Jane Austen novel. Furthermore, within the haredi sector are two distinct groups. One of them, the hassidim, are more emotional and have a more mystical attachment to their leaders (known as rebbes). This film takes place amongst a hassidic group in Israel.

Director Rama Burshtein does not idealize her hassidim, and, with the exception of one scene, avoids using the film as a way of educating viewers about the haredi way of life. The exception, or so it seems to me, is a scene in which the rebbe receives people who are in need of money, hears their tales, and tries to help them out. It does not fit into the plot of the film.

The film is focused upon eighteen year old Shira (Hadas Yaron), the youngest of three daughters. The eldest, Esther (Renana Raz), dies and, while doing so, gives birth to a son. Her widower, Yochay (Yiftach Klein) is considering marrying a Belgian Jewess which would involve him and his young son moving there. His mother-in-law, who has been caring for Esther’s child, does not want her grandson to be moved so far away so she proposes that Shira marry Yochay.

The film is a character study, primarily of Shira and secondarily of Yochay. It is a good one and, like most good ones, leaves room for contemplation and speculation because it recognizes that there is a tangledness to human nature and an element of opacity as well. The film tells its tale well.

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