By Ruth Judah.
If you want the real thing in movies, you should watch FILL THE VOID (2012), now downloadable at netflix.com. There are many worse ways to spend 90 minutes. The movie was nominated by Israel for the 2013 Oscars in the best foreign language film. While it failed to garner the nomination, the movie won plenty of other awards with clips shown at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in 2013 and nomination for a Spirit Award.
Rama Burshtein is the endearing and forthright director who knows her raison d’être, “I’m a storyteller and I tell personal mental stories”. Fame was not her motive for investing years in the making of FILL THE VOID. Born in New York and now a mother of 4, Burshtein grew up in Israel and moved into the Haredim community of Tel Aviv at 27. For the last twenty years she has produced movies with other women from her community that are designed for the Haredi audience.
There are no other orthodox female film directors and Burshtein understands that she has broken the mold by presenting a movie that is commercial and yet provides a window into ultra-religious life. “Everywhere I go, when people meet me, they’re expecting to meet someone who is more stupid than I am, more primitive than I am” she said. But this is not the reality and she lets down such preconceived convictions by presenting this movie. There is nothing primitive about FILL THE VOID; it is first class kosher entertainment.
The story centers on the issues of matrimony and specifically on a young woman who is pressured into marrying the husband of her sister, who is a widower since his wife, the young woman’s sister, died while giving birth. FILL THE VOID is magnificently authentic in its depiction of family dynamics. The story realistically presents the orthodox life of Tel Aviv and the relationship issues that face young women today. This is a powerful piece because genuine issues that face marriage, romance and partner compatibility are presented. The life decisions to which the characters commit are in synch with the issues that face new brides and grooms of all levels of religiosity.
Director Rama Burshtein with her husband Aharon on the red carpet during a screening for the movie at the 69th Venice Film Festival Sep 2, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
While the story is remarkable in its depiction of ultra orthodox lives, it’s also a story from the heart that goes to the heart. Mrs. Burshtein did well. She may be ultra orthodox but she is ultra brilliant at delving into the creative world of movie making to produce entertainment that is timeless. She is also the first Shomer Shabbat director to create a feature film that has been distributed worldwide and has grossed nearly$3million. This is twice the earnings of the memorable Ushpizin (2004). As winter draws to a close the time is ripe for a movie night and FILL THE VOID is designed for that experience. Burshtein explained the purpose of creating this movie experience, “It’s about making fun, with the right amount of crying and laughter”.