“Fill the Void” is the title of Rama Burshtein’s film that played to critical acclaim at the recent Toronto International Film Festival and earned seven Ophir Awards — the Israeli Oscars — including one for best film and best director, and has become Israel’s entry into the 2012 Oscars’ foreign language category.
What is this film that has generated so much professional interest?
Amazingly, it’s the story of an average family in a strictly religious, charedi, community in Tel Aviv. It focuses on the family’s 18 year-old-daughter Shira who is in the throws of her first attempts at arranged dating. In the process, unbeknownst to him, Shira spots her intended in the dairy section of the supermarket and a spark is ignited, setting off preparations for the wedding. Then tragedy strikes: Shira’s older sister Esther dies in childbirth, and the family, crushed by grief, delays the wedding. As Esther’s husband, Yochai, is encouraged to remarry a widow living in Belgium, Shira’s mother, desperate to keep her only grandchild in the country, pleads with Shira to marry Yochai instead, and become mother to her older sister’s child.
It is a moving but simple story whose uniqueness lies in that it is a film about charedi life directed by a charedi woman, exposing the true nature of that world for a secular audience. “I felt it was time to tell a story from within, and say something that comes from really living the life,” Rama Burshtein, member of the Tel Aviv charedi community, said. “That’s what I felt was important: to just tell a story that has no connection with the regular subjects that you deal with when you talk about the Orthodox world. People don’t know much about this world, so it’s not a question of celebration or criticism, it’s a window into this world.”
The film offers a rare glimpse into the Orthodox way of life, its customs and traditions, but also deals with the wider themes of relationships and family pressures.
Mrs. Burshtein, a native New Yorker who grew up in Tel Aviv, became religious
at age 25, shortly after graduating from Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School.
“I love this world, I chose it, I was not born in it,” she told reporters.
In preparation for the filming, she spoke with members of her own community – women who had married their sisters’ widowers – and found a surprising phenomenon: the marriages contracted for the sake of fulfilling religious and family obligations evolved into relationships of love.
“At the beginning of the research, it sounded like it was impossible to understand how it works,” Burshtein said. “And then at the end of it, it was like the natural thing to do, to marry within the family.”
With the backing of her rabbi, Ms.Burshtein began production in January 2011 in a tiny Tel Aviv apartment, not far from the home she shares with her husband and four children. Her three sons and daughter, all in their teens, are enthusiastic supporters of her work. On all occasions Rama takes time to express her thanks to them and to her loyal husband, a highly respected public figure in the charedi world.
By opening a window to the charedi world I believe Rama Burshtein, even without the predicted Academic Award, has done a great benefit for Jewish life in Israel which is in dire need in improvement.