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Saturday, March 22

Fill the void

Some movies are little pieces of jewelry that are meant to catch your eye at once with their exquisite embroidery. Fill the void is such a movie, delicately artisaned by Rama Burshtein, the first Orthodox Jewish woman to direct a film. Written, directed and edited with care and much passion, the movie feels precious and powerful, similar to a piece of ornament embellishing the body of a woman with a powerful spirit.

Shira Mendelman, the main character, is a gem in the eyes of her mother, her father and her married sister, Esther. Still young, Shira will soon become the apple of a man's eye as her mother is getting ready for her youngest's future marriage. As it is in life, plans get easily spoilt when, on Purim, Esther dies at childbirth. Devastated by such tragedy, Shira starts taking care of her infant nephew, Mordechai, her only comfort being her accordion. When Esther's mother-in-law pays a visit to Mrs. Mendelman to inform her that her son, Yochay, is thinking of marrying a woman and going to Belgium, the prospect of losing her grandchild fills her with despair and she starts thinking of a plan to keep both little Mordechai and Yochay close to the family. Her grief and distress are projected on Shira who is at first shocked by the her mother's suggestion. Yochay is more open to the idea and starts looking at Shira with different eyes, taking a liking to the budding woman in front of him. And Shira finds herself trapped between duty and her heart's desire, like all those Romantic female characters that seemed to have impressed Rama Burshtein, the director of the movie.

To the unfamiliar eye, the movie is a crack in a closed egg that sheds a ray of light on the rather unknown community of Orthodox (Haredi) Judaism. It may fill a void in our minds or it may simply resonate with the Jane Austen stories in our heads, on love and marriage. Either way, it is a sensitive movie that speaks of the choice the young women are given when picking a husband, rather than of the male perspective upon the issue of married life. Shira has the right age for marriage and though she is part of a community where parents and relatives have a saying in this matter, the final choice is hers. Crises of all sorts are settled within the community and the rabbi advises people or simply offers them money for their needs. So, when Shira is confronted with the possibility of marrying her brother-in-law, she is trapped between her duty towards her parents, her devotion to the community and her own feelings. Unable to switch from brotherly feelings to seeing Yochai as a potential husband, she speaks her mind and the arrangement is off.

In a different kind of movie, in a dissimilar kind of culture, Shira might have embarked on a soul-searching journey or even taken a radical path in life; however, Rama Burshtein loves her community and her traditions. Shira, as the embodiment of these women's empowerment, is dear to her as well. And the eighteen-year-old girl makes a mature decision and follows into the footsteps of all the other women before her. Marriage is the fulfilment she is looking for, yet it will not shatter her fear of dying. Taking her dead sister's place might lead to the same unfortunate denouement and Shira is afraid of dying. Her wedding night finds her, back against the wall, gazing in the eyes of an unknown man. The answers belong to us and to the faith we put in love and marriage. To the enthusiasts, the possibility of romance lurks around the corner, to the pessimists, this is but the painful way, life rewrites itself.
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