Published Oct 17, 2013Unlike most feature film debuts, Rama Burshtein's Fill the Void is an assured amalgamation of content and form. As 18-year-old Shira (Hadas Yaron) internalizes and interprets the sly game of familial manipulation swirling around her, coercing her into a levirate marriage with older brother-in-law Yochay (Yirtach Klein), Burshstein imposes the pressure of limited space and cramped living quarters, where family and community members are loitering around every corner.
Though it's a stylistic decision employed from the outset — close-ups are frequently paralleled with reaction shots of family members standing silently in doorways, watching — it doesn't take on an oppressive air until Shira (the narrative focus) becomes aware of it. Initially, she's content in her cage, excitedly scurrying around a grocery store with her mother (Irit Sheleg) to catch a glimpse of a potential husband, indifferent, or ignorant to, the casual strategizing of the situation. When they're unable to locate him, her mother makes a quick phone call, determining that the boy — unaware that he's on display for a potential arranged marriage — is in the dairy section.
Within this lexicon of calculated movements and omnipresent eyes, Shira's excitement about fulfilling feminine obligation makes sense. She's avoiding the socially abject status of her friend, Frieda (Hila Feldman), the oldest single girl in their Hasidic community, routinely placated by the statement, "may you be the next to marry," while mirroring the seemingly idyllic life her sister (Renana Raz) has with Yochay. That is until her sister dies during childbirth, leaving Yochay a widower and her mother terrified he'll take the baby to Belgium, where another marriage is being arranged.
Burshstein's tightly composed narrative avoids the sort of melodrama that might stem from this set-up. Though Shira is clearly hesitant about marrying her older brother-in-law, it's communicated only through the slightness of facial expression and the occasional shrewdly timed comment to the appropriate party. Everyone reassures Shira that they're not trying to pressure her, yet their body language and perpetual presence, responding to any rejection of the idea by making phone calls and having other community members step in to coerce, suggest the opposite.
Just as the camerawork forces us into crowded rooms where people emerge from every corner, keeping us within an inch of Shira and her family for the duration, the metaphoric sense of pressure surrounding her compounds, exaggerating her sense of claustrophobia through aesthetic composition. The illusion is that Shira has any sort of freedom from familial and community expectations — everyone affirms that the decision is hers, despite passively shrouding her with guilt should her mother's wishes be denied.
Burshstein, careful to avoid politicizing the subject, focuses the narrative energy on Shira and her handling of the situation. No characters or situations are weighted with specified judgement within the text, leaving the thematic and emotional impetus to stem from the inner-conflict of obeying the needs of the family versus satisfying the desires of the self. What's implicit, but is never discussed or formally addressed — even on the Q&A and commentary track included with the DVD — is that these minor freedoms are already compartmentalized by the necessitation of marriage at a young age. (Sony)