VENICE - Israeli director Rama Burshtein brings her own ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to the big screen in "Fill the Void," a film about a young bride torn between love and familial obligations, premiering at the Venice International Film Festival.
The film centers on Shira, an 18-year-old Hasidic girl who is thrilled about her forthcoming arranged marriage with a young man whom she has only briefly seen in a supermarket.
But tragedy strikes when Shira's older sister Esther dies giving birth, leaving the family crushed by grief. Esther's husband Yochai is quickly pressed to remarry a widow in Belgium, but the girls' mother is desperate to keep her only grandchild in the country - and soon Shira is asked to step into her sister's shoes.
Set in a secluded Hasidic community in secular Tel Aviv, the movie offers a rare glimpse of the Orthodox way of life, its rigid customs and traditions, but also deals with the wider themes of relationships and family pressures.
"People don't know much about this world, so it's not a question of celebration or criticism - it's a window into this world," said New York-born Burshtein, who grew up in a secular family but became ultra-Orthodox.
"I love this world, I come from it, I chose it, I was not born in it. But I think we hear many voices (in the film ), I think it's open," she added.
Burshtein has spent more than a decade teaching cinema and making movies for the religious community - some of them for women only as Hasidic men are barred from viewing women on the big screen.
She is one of 21 female directors at the Venice festival, on until September 8, and one of the four competing for the top Golden Lion prize.
The heavy female presence on the Lido waterfront, including Saudi Arabia's first woman filmmaker, is in stark contrast to this year's Cannes festival, where the absence of female directors in the main competition led to accusations of sexism in the French press and further afield.
Film critics have branded Venice's 69th edition a "pink festival," but artistic director Alberto Barbera, who took over the helm of the world's oldest movie showcase this year, said this was not intentional.
"I don't like the idea of Indian reserves or pink quotas. It's just a sign that women's creativity is very present in a world that for decades has been dominated by men," he told reporters at the opening of the festival last week.
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