fill the voidDir. Rama Burshtein
(2013, PG, 90 minutes)

Fill the Void is about a way of life I am not very familiar with: the Hasidic community in Israel. But writer-director Rama Burshtein, who began her life secular and became Hasidic as an adult, approaches the subject with sensitivity and specificity of character; she does not aim to instruct us about the tenets of faith, or criticize its practice, but rather considers her characters as individuals who must make decisions based on their consciences and beliefs. Through them, I felt I understood a little more about the history and traditions that inform their lives.

Shira (Hadas Yaron) is a teenage girl whose pregnant older sister dies unexpectedly, leaving behind her husband and the child she was carrying. Her widower (Yiftach Klein) is under pressure to soon remarry, and Shira’s mother (Irit Sheleg) suggests that he wed her younger daughter to keep the family together. The rest of the film observes how they all navigate the conflicting emotions involved.

Burshtein’s balanced approach is perhaps reflective of her life experience both inside and outside the Hasidic tradition. She establishes no heroes or villains, no right or wrong answers. She does not proselytize or condemn. She simply shows, compassionately, how a teenage girl and her grieving brother-in-law try to suss out how best to honor themselves and the people they love. In the end, those decisions are more personal than spiritual.

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