‘Fill the Void’ Fills the Romantic Void in the Dizzying ‘Great Gatsby’

Guest blog: Rama Burshtein’s “Fill the Void” captures an intimate story that is about the emotions confronting a young Orthodox woman faced with a romantic dilemma


With all the hoopla about “The Great Gatsby” as the great American love story, let me suggest that the intimate Israeli foreign film “Fill the Void” goes a longer way to presenting romance to viewers.

Instead of “Gatsby’s” huge aerial shots in 3D that almost make you dizzy and frenzied screaming in a hotel room, Rama Burshtein’s “Void” captures an intimate story that is about the emotions confronting a young Orthodox woman faced with a romantic dilemma.

Shira, the film’s protagonist, is an 18-year-old Orthodox Hassidic girl who faces quite an unusual problem. She is matched with a young Orthodox man, as is the custom in their community, but when her older sister dies in childbirth Shira’s world is turned around.

She is not only overcome with grief but faces the prospect of marrying her widowed brother in law in order to satisfy her parents’ wish to keep their grandchild in town. But the young girl, played by Israeli actress Hadas Yaron, who won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, chooses to listen to her heart as she weighs family obligations.

Director Burshtein, who attended film school in Israel and later became Orthodox, knows her community. During a recent interview she expressed surprise that the film has achieved such a great success in Israel with over 300,000 people attending the movie. And the film won seven Ophir awards in Israel — that country’s equivalent of the Oscars. The film’s wide appeal is an amazing feat considering that the very Orthodox and the more secular often clash in other venues.

This Israeli film has also gone beyond its country’s borders and is opening all over Europe and the United States. Sony Classics picked it up and is banking on it doing well even though it did not garner an Oscar nomination for Best Picture after Israel submitted it last year.

Traditionally Israeli movies have focused on war themes and secular life. Years ago when I was programming the Washington Jewish Film Festival I was struck how un-romantic Israeli cinema was. My co-director and I used to kid around that Israeli films of that era shied away from delicate scenes, and lust was portrayed without a glimmer of gentleness.

In “Void,” however, Burshtein, who also wrote the film, achieves a romantic gem. She spoke recently in Washington, D.C., about trying to capture the feelings of being married and “feeling like I am 16” when she was writing the script and directing. The scenes between the young sister and the brother in law are chaste but loaded with resonant feelings of potential attraction and passion.

Labeling it a “melody,” the director suggests that the film has done so well because it has something people can relate to everywhere. It expresses a certain “honesty” about her community that has never been portrayed by an insider like herself.

Burshtein’s next film will be set in America and in English but still within the Orthodox community she knows. She will continue to convey her mission that she feels that “the ultra-Orthodox community has no voice in the cultural dialogue.”