Like the world and his wife, we loved The Master. But we also found a smaller gem in the shape of Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void.
The Lido became awash with PTAndemonium on Saturday as The Master emphatically raised the bar for this year’s Golden Lion contenders. We’ll be reviewing the film in full in our November/December issue, where you’ll also find an in-depth interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Until then, start believing the hype.
Elsewhere on day four was New York-born writer/director Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void, which offered a rare glimpse into the Orthodox Jewish community. Set in Tel Aviv, it tells the story of eighteen-year-old Shira (sensational newcomer Hadas Yaron), who finds herself with an impossible decision to make after a cruel family tragedy.
When we first meet her Shira is elated at having been matched with a boy from a well-respected family. Though she’s never met her suitor, she is besotted with the notion that she will soon be wed and her mind drifts to what her new domestic life might be like. Her happiness turns to grief, however, when her beautiful elder sister dies during childbirth, leaving her husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) to care for their newborn.
According to their beliefs no man should be expected to raise a child on his own, and so Yochay’s Belgium-based parents set about finding him a new wife with the view to him relocating. Meanwhile Shira’s mother and rabbi father conspire to keep the family together and quickly decide that the best option for the baby is for him to remain in Tel Aviv.
With most of the women in the community already married or else engaged, Shira becomes the obvious choice to succeed her sister. Naturally she's hesitant – this, after all, is the man whom she has only ever known as her brother-in-law – but there’s immense pressure on her to do the right thing, even if the decision is ultimately hers alone to make. Yochay is sensitive to this fact but needs a swift conclusion to this painful saga, so does his best to ease Shira’s stress, but only manages to upset her further.
Screening as part of International Critics’ Week – which awards the best new debut features – Fill the Void is a curious and impressive film that due to its unfamiliar subject matter will most likely find its appeal limited. Burshtein belongs to the very same secular Hassidic community she portrays here, and in fact has spent most of her career making films within it. How unusual, then, that not only has she chosen to expose its codes and rituals to an outside audience but that she has done so with such candor.