Tag Archives: Fill the Void

Review: “Fill the Void” is a Compelling Look at Orthodox Hassidic Life

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“Fill the Void” drew raves at TIFF 2012, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review it for the Buffalo News when it opened last weekend. Here is my 3 1/2 star review.

Some of the finest scenes in the somber, compelling Israeli drama “Fill the Void” involve no dialogue – just silence, stares, heavy breathing and deep thinking.

In one such scene, Shira, an 18-year-old living with her parents in an Orthodox Hassidic community in Tel Aviv, is on an elevator with her aunt, a gaggle of children and the man she expects to be married off to.

Shira, played by a quietly effective Hadas Yaron, looks down, the man looks away, and the only sounds are heavy breathing and kiddie giggling. It is a short moment that says much, and it’s an example of writer-director Rama Burshtein’s intensely focused, unhurried style.

Burshtein’s directing debut, “Fill the Void” is a delicate, involving, simply told drama that raises real questions about faith, family and free will, all while convincingly bringing to the screen a way of life that for many of us seems almost alien.

The Orthodox lifestyle is presented in an utterly straightforward manner, without commentary or condescension. Admittedly, to an outsider’s eyes, Burshtein’s film often feels as if it could have taken place at any point in the last five decades; the sudden appearance of a cellphone is rather jarring.

But this is indeed the present, and in the family led by loving father Aharon (Chayim Sharir) and mother Rivka (Irit Sheleg), the future seems set. Oldest daughter Esther (Renana Raz) and her husband, Yochay (Yiftach Klein), are about to have a child, and youngest daughter Shira’s marital match appears close.

But Esther’s death during childbirth changes everything. Yochay is now a single father, Aharon and Rivka are heartbroken parents, and Shira finds herself unexpectedly thrust into a seemingly can’t-win situation. Under pressure to marry a widow in Belgium, Yochay is presented with an idea by Rivka: marry Shira and stay in Tel Aviv.

We see the wheels turning in Rivka’s mind and watch as Yochay comes around to the idea; this is a film in which characters stop and think. But when dialogue is exchanged, it is often piercing.

Consider a stunning scene between Yochay and Shira, in which she asks him how he felt on the day of his marriage to Esther, “the most beautiful girl in the world.” This, Shira explains, is a feeling of overwhelming enthusiasm she will never have. By pressuring Shira to step into the role of new wife and mother, her family is taking away any choice of future, and Shira understands this better than anyone.

But Burshtein expertly portrays the complexities at hand. What makes the situation so difficult as an audience member is how logical it begins to seem. Shira and Yochay get along well. Shira clearly loves her nephew. Her family adores Yochay and, of course, the baby. Shira should step in, correct?

Logical, maybe. But is it right? To an outsider, that answer is obvious, but even Shira is gripped by a sense of doubt.

The story heads in a direction that is without question predictable – this is not a film full of surprises, sometimes to its detriment – and yet that almost seems fitting. Tradition overwhelms spontaneity at every turn, just as expected.

Burshtein succeeds in presenting what feels like a complete community. After only a handful of scenes, we feel close to Shira, Aharon and Rivka, as well as to Frieda, the woman who watches others get married and wonders when and if she will be next.

Hadas Yaron is an example of note-perfect casting, appropriately making Shira seem at once innocent and naïve, but also logical and very, very smart. Yiftach Klein’s Yochay could have been a dull heavy, but instead is the film’s most complex character, a man who understands what is expected yet knows how difficult expectation can be. The other actors are all well-cast and well-drawn, with Hila Feldman’s Frieda a particular standout.

Is self-sacrifice in the interest of family and tradition a necessity? To most of the characters in “Fill the Void,” there is no need for argument.

But pay close attention to young Shira’s face, and you’ll see evidence of an internal debate that may never end.

Photo from Buffalo News review

It’s Never Too Early: Pondering 2013’s Best Films … So Far

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I think 2013 has been a surprisingly strong year for movies. Okay, maybe not BIG movies, but there have been many smaller films that, to me, will rank high when the year comes to a close. I decided to make June 30 the cut-off here, so any film that has not officially opened before then (that I’ve already seen) is not here—hence, no “Blue Jasmine.” And of course, there are plenty of movies I still need to see that could make a dent: “Leviathan,” “Beyond the Hills,” “Simon Killer,” “The Act of Killing.” You’ll note that there is plenty of 2012 product here, but I am considering any film actually released in 2013 in North America is fair game. This list may change dramatically tomorrow, but today, in random order, here it is:

  • “Stories We Tell”
  • “Frances Ha”
  • “The Place Beyond the Pines”
  • “Upstream Color”
  • “Before Midnight”
  • “The Bling Ring”
  • “Lore”
  • “Mud”
  • “No”
  • “This is the End”

Some others that at the very least are in the conversation, for me: “The Gatekeepers,” “Side Effects,” “Room 237,” “Like Someone in Love,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Fill the Void,” “Spring Breakers,” “To the Wonder,” “Something in the Air” (yes, I think I’ve completely changed my mind on this one), “Ginger and Rosa.”

What do others think? Here are several lists of 2013’s halfway-point bests:

“Upstream Color” still from the film’s official site.

 

Weekend Preview: Has “Pacific Rim” Effectively Fought the Flop Predictions? And Will “Grown Ups 2” be the Worst Film Ever Made?

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Make no mistake, there is a lot riding on the success or failure of Guillermo Del Toro’s giant-monster epic “Pacific Rim” this weekend. Here, after all, is an original story in a summer of sequels, directed by one of filmdom’s most ambitious directors.

It also has spent the last few weeks trying to counter buzz that had it prematurely pegged as this summer’s “Battleship.”

Since then, Legendary Entertainment and its current (not for long) partner Warner Bros. have fought back. Reviews have started to surface, and they are mostly positive — Kanye West loved it. Has the tide turned? It is hard to say. The trailers have been rainy and dark, the cast is full of good actors who are not stars (Idris Elba, Ron Perlman), and Del Toro is nothing if not an idiosyncratic director, one who is capable of greatness (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) and coasting (“Hellboy 2”).

My guess is that the film will open strongly, draw an interested first-weekend crowd, and then plateau, although the last several days have seen varying predictions. But I truly hope it is not considered a failure, because we need directors like Guillermo Del Toro swinging for the summer fences, dammit.

It will be especially galling if “Rim” is felled by “Grown Ups 2.” I have a friend who sincerely believes “Grown Ups” is the worst film ever made … and while I don’t think it’s quite THAT bad, it is one of the worst studio films of the last decade. “GU2” looks beyond awful, but in a summer of downright strange family entertainment (see heart-eating in “The Lone Ranger”), my guess is parents will see this as a film they can see with their 10 to 16 year olds. Whether or not they SHOULD is another story.

On the indie front, the Israeli drama “Fill the Void” opens at the Amherst Dipson after earning raves at TIFF and beyond. I reviewed the film for the Buffalo News and quite liked it (3 ½ stars). It is a complex look at Hasidic Orthodox culture, and certainly absorbing.

Two other notable indies are opening at the Amherst: “Unfinished Song” and “Dirt Wars.” The former is said to feature one of Terrence Stamp’s finest performances, this U.K. drama appears to be his meatiest part since Soderbergh’s “The Limey.” Perhaps the original General Zod will find himself in next year’s awards chatter. The latter, “Dirty Wars,” is an acclaimed documentary about overseas U.S. military action. It is also available On Demand.

The Screening Room brings back two of last weekend’s movies, with “Grease” at 7:15 p.m. and “Forbidden Plant” at 9:15 on July 12–13. Meanwhile, Fritz Lang’s C-3PO-influencing silent masterpiece “Metropolis” screens at 7:30 on July 16, and a poetry night is scheduled for the next night, July 17, at 7:30.

Bacchus screens this year’s Oscar-winner for Best Picture, “Argo,” on Thursday (July 17), while the UB North Campus has “42” on Friday (July 12), and the Tom Cruise sci-fi film “Oblivion on Tuesday (June 16), both at 9:15. The UB South Campus offers “Oblivion” at 9:15 on Wednesday (July 17).

Note that we are entering that weird mid-to-late summer timeframe, with some probable hits (“Wolverine”), some probable flops (“R.I.P.D.”), and some I don’t-know-whats (“The Smurfs 2”).

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures; Ethan Miller/Getty Images