“Fill the Void” Fills a Void in Movies About Hasidim

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My husband and I recently saw the award-winning, critically-acclaimed film “Fill the Void,” directed by an Israeli Hasidic woman, Rama Burshtein. It’s playing in select theaters throughout the country. (We found a showing in Manhattan.) I had been hearing great things about it, so I was curious to see the movie for myself. Despite the all hype, I was not disappointed at all. In fact, “Fill the Void” exceeded my expectations. It was funny, full of great acting, a compelling storyline, and even had a lead character who was a Sacha Baron Cohn look-alike. (I googled it – other people noticed too!)

I remarked to my husband afterwards that so often these days movies and TV shows rely on gratuitous violence, sex scenes, and cursing to entertain audiences. And this movie had none of that. There was no overt sexuality as this was a movie made by a Hasid, yet the interactions between the two lead characters were brimming with romantic tension – tension which was only able to come about came about due to the restraint the characters exercised. Even as the movie ended, in a rare occurrence in this day and age, what happened next was left up to your imagination.

Burshtein was smart to not paint her world as a flawless one. Despite the fact that Orthodox Jews believe the Torah is perfect, there is no community that upholds every Torah value completely. You saw a man who was being offered tzedaka (charity) throw it back in the face of the donor because it wasn’t “enough.” You saw the challenge that some of the characters (particularly the women) faced when they were not able to get married. But because Burshtein was willing to show the viewers the warts, when you saw the love and beauty and meaning in this very pious, closed off society, you trusted that you were getting honesty there too. And you saw humanity. Something you RARELY see when Hasidim are in movies and TV shows.

And not only did the viewers see this – the secular Israeli actors did too. In this sweet interview of Hadas Yaron at the Venice Film Festival (who plays the lead character Shira), getting to know Burshtein and learning about the Hasidic world showed her a depth and appreciation for Torah she didn’t have before. You even see Yaron breaking down a myth about arranged marriages when she corrects the interviewer and explains that while the parents (in Hasidic circles) choose the potential match, it’s up to the one dating to agree (or not agree) to go through with the marriage.

“Fill the Void” reminded me a bit of the film “Ushpizin” – also an award-winning Israeli movie about Hasidim. What these two movies have in common that no other movies about Hasidim (to my knowledge) have it’s that they were both made by insiders. So instead of seeing the Hasidic world as an outsider thinks it looks, i.e. super serious with the men chanting “oy yoy yoy yoy” all day long, you see people laughing, girls shrieking when they’re excited, and women with strong opinions, which people from all walks of life can relate to.

What both of these movies have done is what we’re trying to accomplish with Jew in the City. Base your understanding of Orthodox or Hasidic Jews on an actual Orthodox or Hasidic Jews*- not the Hollywood version of them. The media will sometimes speak to insiders from the Orthodox or Hasidic world, but the insiders they choose are almost always the ones who had negative experiences.

While I believe that those voices should be heard from time to time, the positive voices need to be heard sometimes too. My hope is that with JITC’s continued efforts, we’ll see more interviews of happy, “normal,” Orthodox people who weren’t abused or mistreated. While I’m told repeatedly that there’s nothing newsworthy or surprising about a happy, “normal” person, I would argue that because so many unhappy ex-Orthodox people have gotten so much media attention in recent times, to hear from a balanced, successful one would actually be the unexpected story. Perhaps that, in part, is what has made “Fill the Void” and “Ushpizin” such popular films – every movie goer loves a good surprise!

 *or in “Fill the Void’s” case, people who are acting according to a Hasidic Jew’s direction

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Allison Josephs About Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. How can we find out where “Fill the Void” is playing? I really want to see it but it’s not in any theaters where I live. Will it be available elsewhere once out of theaters? Any info you can provide about where to see it would be great. I own Ushpizin and love it and would really like to see Fill the Void as well.

    Thank you for all you do Allison! You are a strong and radiant Jewish voice in the world that is so needed. I’m continually inspired by your posts and I found Partners in Torah because of you! So grateful.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      A woman on Facebook said she drove three hours to see it! I am confident that it will be available on DVD or downloadable online once it’s out of the theaters.

      Thanks so much for your kind words!

      • I agree with your opinion! I come from a chasidish family, and LOVED this movie. I feel like it really portrayed the Chasidish community well, and didn’t make us seem like crazy people! I also loved that it was so unbelievably authentic!

    • E. S. Carroll says:

      This link on the movie’s website lists where it’s showing:
      sonyclassics.com/fillthevoid/#/theaters

    • Its playing in Long Island and Nyc if you live in the area. This review was so touching I am going to head to see it this weekend! Thank you JTIC for sharing this!

    • it is now out on redbox!

  2. Wow, 3 hours! That’s awesome. I applaud such dedication.
    Thank you E.S. Carroll for the link! I’ll be watching to see when it comes available.
    I appreciate your review on this movie Allison and look forward to seeing it soon!!

  3. Sue Haley says:

    shalom allison and your mighty staff of elves and elvettes!
    we are just outside the greater KC area and would like to see both “in the void” and “ushpizin”. please keep us apprised as best you can about screenings in the area, or if they are, or become, available on DVD or some streaming site.
    toda!
    sue

  4. I just found it funny that the whole premise of the movie is forbidden. The only leniency for someone to marry a siblings spouse is yibum which is when a husband dies childless, the wife has a mitzvah to marry the brother and this only applies when the husband dies childless. In this film, the wife died and therefore there is an issur kares for the sister to marry the widower. The director and writer probably should have conducted better research about charedi society and halacha.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Yibum is involving brothers – not sisters. I made the same mistake at first. Shira the daughter also makes the same mistake and tells her mother that it’s “assure” prohibited. It’s certainly not a common situation but it is technically allowed.

      • I know yibum is involving brothers. I was saying yibum is the only leniency to marry the spouse of a sibling. In all other instances it is forbidden, including sisters. Achos Isha or the sister of the wife is forbidden to marry on the highest level according to gemara in yevamos

        • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

          You are mistaken, Steve. A man may only marry a brother’s wife in the case of yibum, but sisters are different. Leviticus 18:18 is explicit: a man may not marry his wife’s sister IN HER LIFETIME. If the wife dies, he may marry the deceased wife’s sister.

  5. The ending scene really killed it for me. Shira was terrified standing in that corner! Doesn’t make this whole Jewish marriage style look too appealing to me. I can also suggest movie “Arranged”, although you might like it less because it wasn’t made by the “insiders” which makes you value Ushpizin and Fill the Void. However to me this movie was a lot more “calming” about the style of social lives of Orthodox and Muslim communities. Check it out and let us know what you think JITC!

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Suzy. It’s interesting – my friend also thought Shira looked terrified. That was NOT what I got from her expression. I thought it was more of a “come hither” look. I prefer my reading of that scene!!

      I’ll look into “Arranged.” tks!

      • following on from what Allison said, I think we have to realise that marriage is a huge commitment and therefore it shouldn’t be so surprising that Shira looked a bit afraid. Whether or not it is a Jewish marriage, I’m sure many people are quite overwhelmed in the beginning of their married life. This shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing or a reflection on the way the marriage was organised.

    • LOL I knew my husband before we married but I was also terrified about the wedding night because I didn’t know what was going to happen, either! Most virgins are pretty nervous.

      I’m a Catholic and thought this film was wonderful. The characters were real people and expressed real emotions. I appreciated the honesty surrounding familial dynamics and no family (regardless of culture and religion) is immune from it. Arranged marriages also occur across other cultures and religions. My culture shares common values and cultural practices, so I enjoy watching films such as FTV.

  6. I agree with your review.
    thanks!

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