DAILY | Venice + Toronto 2012 | Rama Burshtein’s FILL THE VOID

“Not just a charming and accomplished first film, Fill the Void qualifies as one of Venice’s most exotic competition entries, throwing open a window on the world of an Orthodox Hassidic family in Tel Aviv,” begins Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “Writer-director Rama Burshstein, who is a member of that community, engineers a serious romantic drama (though there are more than a few moments of rom com) in the context of a closed group with strict rules relating to marriage and relationships.”

Noting that Fill the Void was “improbably booed” at the festival, Guy Lodge, writing at In Contention, warns us not to “underestimate the considerable fortitude and resolve beneath the peach-skin surface of this film, a rare female-focused project from a national industry that lately seems to have been churning out studies in male (and, in particular, military) crisis by the dozen. It’s a film that won’t be done many favors by a nuance-free logline: a virginal 18 year-old girl is pressured by her mother to marry her brother-in-law when her older sister dies in childbirth…. It seems a suitably extreme premise on which to build a progressive protest drama against an archaic faith, so audiences might be disquieted to find that Burshtein, herself a happy bride of arranged marriage, comes not to bury this conservative cultural institution, but to praise it—albeit with certain conditions.”

“It’s the sort of politely middling art film that will no doubt lead many urbanites of all ages to deeply, earnestly question their most fundamental moral beliefs for half an hour over expensive cocktails after the movie and then never think of it again,” predicts Phil Coldiron in Cinema Scope. “And as firmly as Fill the Void resists universalizing its social interactions—the Haredim, it turns out, aren’t Just Like Us at all—Burshtein’s direction courts every audience it can: soft lighting and a pointless widescreen frame for the respectable art-house types, blobby shallow focus and an abrupt cut to black at the end for the adventurous festival viewer.”

“The press notes say that Burshtein previously made films for the Orthodox Jewish community, ‘some of them for women only.'” Jay Weissberg in Variety: “It’s unclear exactly what kinds of pics these are, but it’s evident the helmer, a formerly secular Jew who joined the Haredim (the ultra-Orthodox), knows what she’s doing as she shines a uniquely femme-centric light on this generally hidden world. Her women are strong while accepting their circumscribed roles: The pic could carry the subtitle ‘Rabbis Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ without a shred of irony. Yet it’s too easy to be dismissive of the p.o.v., and while many might be disappointed by an ending that seems like a copout, it’s worth contemplating parallels between Burshtein’s expertly written characters and the figures populating the novels of Jane Austen, the helmer’s stated influence.”

“Tonally, the film awkwardly straddles light fluffy comedy and grief-stricken melodrama, hopping from one mode to other from scene to scene.” Oliver Lyttelton for the Playlist: “The comedy is often charming, and far more successful than the more sombre, slightly inelegantly-written melodrama, but it’s the way the two butt together that really sinks the picture—the laughs come at the expense of the stakes of the drama, and the more serious moments makes it tougher to laugh at the comedy.”

More from Marco Duse (CineVue, 3/5), Dan Fainaru (Screen), and Adam Woodward (Little White Lies). Fill the Void has screened in Competition at Venice and will be part of the Discovery program in Toronto.

Update, 9/15:Fill the Void is shot mostly in tight interiors or in vivid, often elegant close-ups by DP Asaf Sudry that bring an intimacy to this closed world without softening its hard barriers or condemning its intolerance,” writes David D’Arcy for indieWIRE. “The storytelling is deliberate, nuanced and memorable, but don’t expect anything reassuring.”

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