It's safe to say that here in the good ol' U.S. of A, we're fortunate enough to be able to choose our own spouses (for the most part). The single woman has become not just a common and accepted archetype, but at times a symbol of power. There are various cultures around the world that still uphold the concept of arranged marriages, the Jewish Haredi community being one of them. Rama Brushtein directs Fill the Void, a telling Israeli drama of the eighteen-year-old Shira Mendelman (Hadas Yaron), daughter of a Rabbi, who is pressured to marry the husband of her dead sister.
Burhstein's slow-paced, carefully edited work illuminates concepts of filial piety, female agency, and patriarchy. Consider a shot where women linger in the background, surrounded in white light, as Rabbi Mendelman meets with men in a dark dining room. This frame can't help but emphasize the Rabbi's ultimate power in this world, upholding women as emblems of purity. In Haredi culture it is the man who stakes his claim on his future bride, and the rest is settled between families.
The film shows us how women who aren't chosen for marriage succumb to depression and lack of confidence, their whole future hinging on something beyond their control. Shira's aunt, however, who hasn't any arms and has never been married, serves as the film's feminist force, encouraging Shira to do what she wants. Her status renders her somewhat of a societal reject, yet she is content in her independence.
Hadas Yaron's portrayal of Shira is delicate, yet strong-willed. It is often hard to decipher what she wants, as perhaps her character isn't quite sure, but we know that she can't ignore her feelings. In conjunction with the entrapment these women face in their dependance on marriage, is its sacredness within a religious context. Whereas marriage in the U.S. at times feels cheapened by reality T.V., high divorce rates, and fleeting Vegas weddings, here it is used to strengthen family bonds.
Bershtein gives us a layered view of Hasidic life for women, one that questions it without frowning upon it--an arduous task for any filmmaker. Each character, male or female, is rendered whole and emotive. Yet witnessing this universe from the female lens is a necessary and pertinent bestowal.
Photo via Filmguide.Sundance.com
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