Cultural films offer us a deeper insight into worlds we otherwise know little about, and so for that reason alone, I love to discover little films like ‘Fill the Void’. Tense family dramas are also very much my cup of tea, and so I was all set to really enjoy (even love) this little talked about film from director Rama Burshtein.
I expected a little more than this.
I’m not saying that ‘Fill the Void’ doesn’t offer us a languid story and one that is actually quite interesting, but (and no pun intended here) there is a void that the film never really fills. There are so many intriguing aspects of this story and so many wonderful plot points and yet they all feel somewhat barren in the end because the film lacks the needed shading and the needed ‘fleshing out’ to make all of these facets come together strongly. There is the base plot, that central theme that runs through and it is, in a way, developed well enough, but everything revolving around it needed more time to stew (or a sharper, tighter script that could have developed it quicker) and instead creates a film that feels underdeveloped and somewhat forgettable.
‘Fill the Void’ tells the story of a young Hasidic Jewish woman, Shira, who early in the film sets her sights on a young man (the opening scene has her spying on him from a distance with her mother) and while he seems slightly, off, she is in love with the idea of pursuing marriage and starting her life. He’s young and has promise and would be her own. Her family pushes forward with arranging the marriage, but then tragedy strikes. Her aunt, who is heavy with child, dies leaving a newborn and a widower. Shira’s mother begins to panic when her sister’s surviving husband, Yochay, begins to seek a wife that may take him away from their country and cause her to lose her nephew. Latching on to that baby as the only remaining piece of her sister, Shira’s mother just cannot allow this to happen. So, she begins to meddle and in doing so she strips Shira of her prospects of marrying a man her own age and proposes to give her to Yochay. Shira is not keen on this, and Yocahy is unsure of it himself, and then there are other voices in the mix, like a disabled Aunt and a lonely young woman waiting for her day.
From a purely cultural angle, ‘Fill the Void’ covers a lot of bases, and one very significant one (arranged marriage) and from a purely emotional angle it covers just as many and one very significant one (true loss and dispair) but it is in all those details missing that the film falters a bit. Shira’s mother, while a force (and Irit Sheleg’s performance is very strong) needed more time to develop, and the fact that she becomes the most interesting aspect of the film (thanks to such a strong performance) takes away from the core story. Coloring the story with all these other plot points (and they are GOOD plot points) only works if they feel developed enough to propel the story.
I just wanted something more.
Still, there are many reasons to enjoy this and from a technical angle it is rather impressive (so glossy, so pretty) and those costumes are just marvelous, but at the end of the day I feel like this had more story to tell and it didn’t go there for me.
I give this a C+, and I mean that with endearment since I really do love a lot of what this film has to say, but it needed more work. Oscar has already passed here (it was submitted for Foreign Language Film and snubbed) but I would have noted it in some technical areas, especially those costumes (which it won't get nominated for).