Touching, delicate and beautifully executed, Fill The Void offers a thought-provoking glimpse into the closeted world of an ultra-Orthodox community, writes Francine Wolfisz. [divider]

In this directorial debut from Rama Burshtein (pictured) – and the first feature film directed by an Orthodox Israeli woman – we see Shira (Hadas Yaron), a young woman forced to question issues of marriage, family loyalty, religious duty and love.

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“I felt that the ultra-Orthodox community has no voice in the cultural dialogue”

Shira has been promised to a young man of the same age and background, but her happiness is cast aside after the sudden death of her older sister, Esther (Renana Raz), during childbirth.

Overwhelmed by grief, the family’s emotions intensify when Esther’s husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) discusses the possibility of marrying a widow from Belgium – meaning he will leave Israel and take his young son with him.

Although not an ideal solution, Shira’s mother (Irit Sheleg) suggests her young daughter and Yochay consider marriage, a proposal that is not immediately comfortable for the 18-year-old and evokes moral guilt over whether she could ever replace her sister. Of her motivation for making Fill The Void, Burshtein said she “set out on this journey out of a deep sense of pain. I felt that the ultra-Orthodox community has no voice in the cultural dialogue. You might even say we are mute”.

To an extent, Burshtein is correct – while there have been scores of films depicting the ultra-Orthodox community, seldom have they been sympathetic. These films often depict the community as outsiders, at odds with the secular world around them and forced to live a life of strict ad- herence to outdated religious laws.

But Fill The Void offers a different insight. As Burshtein explains: “It’s fine for someone on the outside to interpret us, as long as someone on the inside is telling a story.”

This story in particular paints a community that is sensitive, patient and altruistic – and one that seeks mutual agreement between couples considering marriage. Even within this close-knit community, there are complex characters who don’t quite “fit” – the sharp-tongued Aunt Hanna (Razia Israeli), who never married owing to her disability, and Shira’s older and unmarried friend Frieda (Hila Feldman) – showing not all submit to the formula of ultra-Orthodox life. This is a beguiling tale of self-discovery from start to finish.