Sunday, 15 December 2013

Film Review: Fill the Void

Zero and I went to see Fill the Void earlier today, feeling quite "with it" that for the second time in recent weeks we were seeing a film on the first weekend of its release in the UK (we did the same when we saw Philomena). Fill the Void is set in a Hasidic Jewish community in Tel Aviv, and the intention of the film's makers is that it should give to that community a voice in the wider world, which lives alongside them but hardly interacts with them.

The trailer for Fill the Void is here (though Sony, the distributors in the United States, are not the UK distributors). There are interesting interviews with the lead actress, Hadas Yaron, and the director, Rama Burshtein here and here (the FILMCLUB is a programme to promote interest in film in schools, and this latter interview seems particularly informative because the young lady interviewing Hadas Yaron appears close to her in age. The London Film Festival being referred to is that in Autumn 2012).

Fill the Void was entered in the main competition at the Venice Film Festival in 2012, with the lead actress, Hadas Yaron, winning the prize for Best Actress. The SIGNIS jury at the festival also gave the film a Special Commendation:
The Jury also decided to give a Special Commendation to the Israeli film Fill the Void , by Rama Burshtein.
"The youngest daughter of an orthodox Jewish family is asked to change drastically the course of her life in the interest of the unity of her family. The story unfolds in a small community of strict religious observance, the customs and traditions of which are presented with great cinematic beauty and an outstanding sense of pride, acknowledging at the same time the complexity of the challenge of postponing personal aspirations for the good of others."
The film is interesting in that all those who took part in the making of the film - certainly the lead actress, the director and the producer - demonstrate a great willingness to engage with a profoundly religious culture that, apart from the director herself, was largely unknown to them before the making of the film. They also share - and Hadas Yaron articulates this very well in her interviews - a desire to give that culture, largely hidden from view though lived in physical proximity to others, a voice to wider society. Indeed, Hadas Yaron, herself a secular Jew, describes how, through her participation in the making of the film, she came to know these people who live so closely and yet were almost unknown to her. There is a very telling exchange in this video extract of a press conference with Hadas Yaron and the producer at the Venice Film Festival in which they reply to the suggestion that the film portrays in an unwelcome way a religious fanaticism (starting at about 2:10). It is of great interest, I think, that film makers are willing to present a film rooted in such a profoundly religious culture and in their film to offer a very positive insight into that culture.

If you see the film, you will recognise that its title works on a number of different levels. There is the void created by the death of the elder sister, Esther, a void both for Esther's mother and for her "little sister"; the void created by the death of a wife and mother; the void created when Shira's planned marriage does not come to fruition. Providing what I saw as a kind of theological interpretation of all of this, though I may have been reading more into the film than was intended, is the context of the feast of Purim (a feast which celebrates Esther's intervention before the King to save the Jews in exile) and Shira's reading, even on the day of her eventual wedding to her sister's widower, of the psalm: "If I forget you, O Jerusalem ..". A very modern setting of these words provides the theme music for the film, something which gives a real sense of an encounter with a religious heritage that is lived in modern times.

Hadas Yaron says in her interview for FILMCLUB that the film is a love story, and this is true. The actress also speaks of the film showing how her character, Shira, is struggling to understand herself and her feelings. The film also portrays the kind of family relationships that can readily occur in any culture. But it also portrays how these ordinary experiences are lived out by those who share in a religiously rich culture and lived practice. In her response at the press conference, Hadas Yaron indicates that, though the Hasidic culture has its restrictions, nevertheless it is Shira's own choices that are being shown in the film. What struck me, reflecting on it in the different context of the recent debates about same sex marriage, is that Fill the Void shows, in its portrayal of arranged marriages in the Hasidic community, an interplay between the subjective feelings of a couple (the rabbi points out to Shira at one point, in reply to her saying that it is not about feelings at all, that it is indeed all about feelings) and a more objective component to the institution of marriage represented by the inter-family negotiations.

I found particularly moving the three points in the film where Shira is shown playing the accordion. The lighting of the actress in two of these scenes shows one side of her face lit and the other in shadow - and in the third scene at the kindergarten, as the tune changes to a sorrowful tune, a child moves across in front of Shira so that her face comes in and out of view to the film goer. That most of the film's scenes take place indoors is an indicator of the separation that exists between the community being portrayed and the wider society among whom it lives.

It is a very beautifully shot film. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

zero says
Yes, get out there and see it!You can hear the psalm on You Tube - the tune will remain with you.I knew -even just seeing the brief trailer- that Joe would be commenting on the lighting!