Fill the Void

July 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg
Directed by: Rama Burshtein (debut)
Written by: Rama Burshtein (debut)

As Israel’s official entry in the Foreign Language category for the 2012 Academy Awards, the realistic family drama “Fill the Void,” which is the first wide-release film ever directed by a woman of the Orthodox Jewish faith, should definitely be praised for its consistent tone. The film never ventures away from its somber mood, even when first-time director and screenwriter Rama Burshtein delivers on some of its more upbeat moments.

In the film, Israeli actress Hadas Yaron, who won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival last year, plays Shira, a devote 18-year-old Hasidic Jew living in Tel Aviv who is pressured into an arranged marriage with her sister’s widow Yochay (Yiftach Klein). Searching for a new wife to help him raise his child, Yochay’s only other choice if Shira refuses to marry him is to move to Belgium where another woman is in waiting. Shira’s mother, however, cannot fathom the idea of seeing her only grandchild move so far away. With her family’s happiness at stake, Shira is forced to make a difficult decision that will affect her entire life.

Through subtle and very intimate scenes, characters with different outlooks on the situation at hand clash without much fanfare. “Fill the Void” is also almost completely reliant on its dialogue, which while convincing and authentic, is not exactly exciting material. Even at its brisk 90-minute runtime, certain scenes take far too long to build to anything that resembles a climax. It might’ve been Burshtein’s intent to allow the film to move at such a slow pace, but much of the drama is lost when parts of the narrative come to a standstill.

While the pain and anguish of the characters is displayed well by its actors, those feelings are never transferred to the viewer. Because of this, the film feels a bit hollow. It is clear that these characters are going through a tremendous amount of emotional turmoil, but there is a certain connection that doesn’t quite become fulfilled. “Fill the Void” is a great look into the Orthodox Jewish culture, filled with unique music and traditions that likely span centuries. The problem, however, is that the story is difficult to relate to on a more complex level. While a few of its themes are familiar, its presentation is far too subdued to have a lasting impact.

Lebanon

October 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Italy Tiran, Yoav Donat, Michael Moshonov
Directed by: Samuel Maoz (debut)
Written by: Samuel Maoz (debut)

Winner of the prestigious Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, the Israeli war film “Lebanon” is a harrowing and unremorsefully intense drama centered on four Israeli soldiers manning a tank across hostile battlefields during the first day of the Lebanon War in 1982.

As we spend a majority of the picture inside the tank (nicknamed the Crown Cinderella), we watch the four soldiers – gunner Shmulik (Yoav Donat), commander Assi (Itay Tiran), loader Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), and driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov) – rumbling north through Lebanon alongside a team of paratroopers who are clearning out anything that hasn’t been destroyed by the Israeli Air Force. Their final destination is an area known as San Tropez where they will reconvene with their forces and avoid enemy fire.

Confined in the small, filthy hull, the men’s mental health begins to slowly deteriorate. The only window to the cruel outside world is through Shmulik’s scope where he bears witness to all the inhumanities of war.

First-time director Samuel Maoz, who was also an Israeli soldier almost 30 years ago, uses the claustrophobic setting to build tension among the men as they contemplate what it is they’re doing for their country. Their distinct personalities reveal the depths of the turmoil they face during the bloody battle . It’s not nearly as politically motivated as Ari Folman’s 2008 animated film “Waltz with Bashir” (also a first-person account of the Lebanon War), but that’s far from a negative criticism. “Lebanon” has a different motive and makes a powerful statement without picking sides.

Beyond the crosshairs there is a devastating narrative realized by the men who are causing the destruction. Through detailed close ups, eerie silences and gripping mechanical sounds from the tank, “Lebanon” is an aesthetic and poetic combat piece that places us in the confines of the most nightmarish of scenarios.

There are plenty of movies that provide enough war-is-hell moments, but “Lebanon” is one of the few that actually lets you see for yourself. From that vantage point, it becomes warfare at it’s most tormenting.