Pass the Popcorn: Fill the Void

I’m interrupting my hiatus one more time to urge you to see the Israeli film, Fill the Void.  Like a Jane Austen story, the film is a love story told within the context of a society with clear rules for behavior, a strong sense of responsibility and connection to family, and the tension of repressed emotions.

The film takes place in an Orthodox Jewish community in Tel Aviv.  Having turned 18, Shira is excited about the prospect of being married.  She spies one prospect for a match in a grocery store and excitedly tells her sister, Esther, that he might be the one.  But when Esther dies in childbirth, and her widower may move with the surviving baby for an arranged marriage in Belgium, the grieving mother proposes a plan to have him marry Shira and stay.  Can Shira fill the void of her sister?  Can she sacrifice youthful romance to marry a widower and keep the family intact?  What are her obligations to her parents, her grieving brother-in-law, and to herself?

Fill the Void is no more a critique of the Orthodox Jewish community it depicts than Jane Austen’s stories are a critique of 19th century British aristocracy.  Societies with lax rules for behavior and individuals with little sense of obligation to their families and communities would never produce the intensity of emotion and the tension of conflicting obligations found in Fill the Void or Jane Austen.  Love is about connection and without rules, family bonds, and community obligations we are more likely to have atomized individuals than loving connections.  The title of the film may not just refer to the void created by the deceased sister, but may have something to do with how love ultimately fills the voids between us.

Unlike almost every other film this summer, there is no action scene before the credits.  There are few plot developments — I’ve already told you almost the entire plot.  Instead, what you see is a superbly acted and directed intimate portrayal.  And the ending has hints of the The Graduate.  Love is triumphant but what comes next?

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11 Responses to Pass the Popcorn: Fill the Void

  1. Jason Bedrick says:

    We were just talking about this over the Shabbos table at my college rabbi’s house. Like most Lubabs, he generally doesn’t watch movies but he told us it was absolutely axing and we had to see it. “Better than ‘Ushpizen’,” we were told.

    Hope your travels are going well!

    Best, Jason

    • Hey Jason. I also loved Ushpizen but your rabbi is right that this is a more beautifully crafted movie.

      I’m home now. Just taking a break from the blog. And I’m looking forward to more guest posts from smart folks like you.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    Actually, Austen was aiming to critique important aspects of the social order. Granted you could not call her novels simply “a critique of 19th century aristocracy,” as if nothing else were going on, but Austen has an agenda. Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine, for example, are pretty clearly a commentary on (respectively) the official pieties of the day and the cruelties they often legitimized.

    • Similarly, Fill the Void critiques particular aspects of the social world it describes. In particular, we see the desperation that women experience if they risk not finding an acceptable match for a husband. Being alone in a world where everyone is connected is truly sad.

      But while critiquing particular aspects, Fill the Void is not attempting to tear down the Orthodox life, just as Austen is not attempting to tear down her world.

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