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.

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