Fill the Void is an unusual, and wonderful Israeli film about the Haredi Jewish culture, the grief of a family, and love vs. duty.
The film begins around the time of year known as Purim. This a joyous time for religious Jewish families, and celebrates God’s protection of the Jewish people. The origins of the feast go back to the Bible and the Book of Esther, where the wicked Haman is destroyed and God’s people are saved from certain destruction. The heroes from the Book of Esther are Esther (Hadassah) and her godly uncle Mordecai.
Now back to the film, it begins with an amazing look into Haredi culture. The main character, Shira is a young lady on the way to see her potential, future husband. She does not actually meet him, but she and her mother go to the grocery store to see what he looks like! We know that there is a matchmaker involved because they cannot find the particular man, and they call the matchmaker to see where the young man, Pinchas Miller, is. Shira’s mother calls the matchmaker and is told he is in the dairy section. When Shira does see him, her mother wants to know what she thinks, and Shira believes he is the one.
The matchmaker plays an important role in marriages in this film, as do the parents. No one forces young people to marry certain other young people, but the movie does seem to indicate that there are pressures that young people face. It seems that maybe the film makers are examining the practice. For some young people it is the pressure just to be married, in a culture that lifts married life and family to a very high level. An example of this would be the character Frieda, who is older and not married yet. For others it is marrying a partner they have never met, because they look like a good prospect.
Now for us we may not like this idea, and it seems at the very least archaic. What it does say about the young people in this culture though, is that they are submitted to their parents, their community (by trusting the matchmaker and fellow Haredi Jews), and ultimately to God. They are trusting, and they want to do the right thing.
Tragedy strikes Shira’s family when on the night of Purim, her pregnant sister dies. By the way, her sister’s name is Esther. I’m not sure of all of the symbolism here, but I know there is some, because the baby is saved, and when they name him, he is given the name Mordecai (spelled slightly different).
One of the most moving scenes in the film is when Esther’s widower, Yochay takes his son to the synagogue for the circumcision ceremony. Inside the synagogue he holds his son and sings, cries, and praises God all at the same time. The praises to God are beautiful, and the audience feels his intense grief.
The grief of Shira’s family runs deep. It is especially difficult for her mother. As the months go by Yochay considers marriage again, in part to take care of the baby. When his potential wife lives in Belgium he contemplates going to live there. This becomes unbearable for Shira’s mother, and she comes up with a plan for Shira to marry Yochay.
The majority of the film is spent examining what Shira goes through in the way of grief over losing her sister, and at the same time feeling the pressure of everyone wanting her to marry her dead sister’s husband. At first she does not think of it as even a possibility, because he is Esther’s husband!
Gradually she says yes but not out of love. She emotionally shuts down, and does not allow herself to feel any emotion, and even tells the rabbi she is willing to marry Yochay because it is the right thing to do. She wants to do the right thing. She holds in her grief and apprehension. The meeting with the rabbi is very touching. If you see the movie take note of how he handles an old lady that wants to see the rabbi, and interrupts the meeting with Shira, her father, and Yochay. When the rabbi sits down again, we don’t see all that he says to Shira, but the family comes back with their heads hanging low. The marriage is not approved.
There is a beautiful scene when Shira cries out to God for help. She is lying on her bed alone, and asking God to give her the strength to get up. She tells God she cannot face this alone and she needs His help.
Shira and Yochay do develop a dialogue with one another in spite of everything, in fact, because of everything they have been through together. We see them opening up to one another and starting to be honest, which develops their relationship. Shira insists she is not afraid but when Yochay pushes her to confront her feelings, she admits that she is afraid of dying. This becomes a turning point for her.
The film invites God in, because of the people and their deep faith. Throughout the film we see people thanking God, acknowledging Him, and seeking Him through prayer. This is wonderful.
I will not share the ending with you, but faith, internal freedom, and the relationship between Shira and Yochay are a blessing to see. I do wish it was slightly different at the very end, with more joy.
This is a very good film. By the way there is no violence or profanity at all. There is some smoking and drinking, but Haredi (and this Hassidic branch of Haredi) Jews like to celebrate. The film is in Hebrew and/or Yiddish, and has English subtitles.
It is a film about faith, family, and wanting to do the right thing. I highly recommend it.
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