Venice Film Critics Wowed by ultra-Orthodox Jewish Director's Debut

'Fill the Void,' a film by Rama Burshtein, gets rave reports in Variety magazine, Hollywood Reporter and Screen Daily, while Indiewire website is less impressed.

"Fill the Void," a film by Rama Burshtein that was screened on Sunday at the Venice Film Festival, has been arousing great interest among the global media.

Burshtein, who both wrote and directed the film, is an ultra-Orthodox filmmaker and this is her first movie made for a general audience, as opposed to a religious one. Consequently, much of the media interest has focused on her.

The film, produced by Assaf Amir, tells the story of an 18-year-old Haredi girl who is happily looking forward to an arranged marriage, when her sister dies. She is then pressured to marry her bereaved brother-in-law instead, forcing her to make a choice.

Reviews of the film have generally been favorable.

"With 'Fill the Void,' Rama Burshtein's impressive debut, there's so much skill on display that [audiences] disinclined to look kindly on pics presenting marriage as a woman's ultimate goal will struggle to find technical faults," wrote Jay Weissberg in the American magazine "Variety."

Weissberg had high praise for the entire cast, and especially for Hadas Yaron, who plays the lead, and cinematographer Asaf Sudry. The film, he concluded, is "sure to generate hours of post-cinema discussion."

Another American journal, "Hollywood Reporter," also praised the movie. "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," its reviewer wrote.

Israeli reviewer Dan Fainaru, writing in the British journal "Screen Daily," said the film "will have considerable appeal to large audiences, not only for its evident ethnographic interest, but also for the moving, intense drama it deploys." He also praised the "well-chosen cast, intelligent use of camera and a meticulous choice of sets and costumes."

But the Indiewire website, which specializes in independent films, was less impressed. "As you might expect, Burshtein has a real eye for the world and its rituals, allowing the camera to see things that can't have been seen by too many outsiders," its reviewer wrote. "There's a real warmth and humanity to the characters ... It's a shame, then, that the film the characters are given isn't quite so successful. Tonally, the film awkwardly straddles light fluffy comedy and grief-stricken melodrama, hopping from one mode to other from scene to scene."

Actors in Rama Burshtein’s 'Fill the Void' during filming.
Daniel Tchetchik