*** (out of four)
Shame on Tommy Wiseau’s atrocious cult classic “The Room” for so many reasons. Most recently, though, shame for pulling me out of the affecting Israeli drama “Fill the Void” when a character utters, “It’s tearing me apart, Rivka,” and making me picture Wiseau bellowing, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”
Obviously, the films couldn’t be any more different. In the Orthodox, Hassidic Tel Aviv community of “Void,” women concern themselves with marriage and children and … that’s about it. They linger in the background while the men sit at the table. So 18-year-old Shira (Hadas Yaron) actually supporting the man she’s about to marry, rather than lamenting the possible mismatch that comes with tradition, counts as a win.
Then, tragedy. Shira’s older sister Esther (Renana Raz) dies during childbirth, and Shira’s mother Rivka (Irit Sheleg), like any new grandparent, can’t bear the thought of her son-in-law Yochay (Yiftach Klein) remarrying and taking Rivka’s grandchild to Belgium. If only Rivka could think of someone local to recommend to Yochay. Hey, what about Shira?!
The question of, “Should anyone’s aunt become their mom?” sounds more like an episode of “Maury” than a tender Jewish drama, but this feature debut for writer-director Rama Burshtein articulates this society’s constant urgency and claustrophobic decisions. Burshtein underplays Yochay’s grief and ends on a moment that’s sad rather than shattering, yet you don’t have to share these characters’ beliefs to relate to a difficult family situation.
“Yochay is a good man, but it’s your decision,” Shira’s told with the kind of passive-aggressive message that basically says, “No pressure, but come on!” People of any background can feel trapped by unexpected circumstances, and, in many ways, “Fill the Void” speaks to that timeless question: What now?
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