Shira’s face softens dreamily as she gazes at the teen in the grocery aisle, oblivious to his evident gawkiness. Though she has never seen him before, this is potentially her husband.
A devout ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jew, the 18-year-old Israeli girl looks forward to a marriage negotiated by her elders. She brims with excitement as she tells her older, heavily pregnant sister, Esther (Renana Raz), the good news. Back at the house, the women watch from the kitchen alcove as Shira’s father commemorates Purim in the dining room by listening to the stories of woe from the men in the community, doling out money in proportion to their need. Later that night, Esther collapses, dies.
Esther’s death incapacitates her family, leaving her parents devastated, Shira (Hadas Yaron) bereaved, and her husband, Yohai (Yiftach Klein), stunned to find himself wifeless and caring for a newborn. Custom dictates that Yohai take a new wife, and an offer comes from Belgium; should he accept, he and the baby will move out of country. The prospect of losing a daughter, a son-in-law, and a grandchild in such quick succession nearly kills Shira’s mother, Rivka (Irit Sheleg). A thought crosses her mind: why not marry Shira instead?
Not everyone supports the union; in many ways, it is worse than marrying strangers because of the couple’s mutual pain. Shira’s father fiercely opposes asking his daughter to give up her youthful aspirations to take on a grieving widower and child. Rivka, played with heartbreaking poignancy by Irit Sheleg, struggles with her guilt and her utter desperation to keep her family together.
Yohai can see the sense in the match, as Shira will be a fantastic mother, and he appreciates the woman she will become. Shira, however, finds it difficult to shift out of the role of little sister and to view him as a potential lover. Esther’s memory silently colors their interactions. Patiently, Yohai tosses aside the niceties that Shira mouths, asking prodding questions that force her to consider what she truly wants. Shira shies from Yohai, and it’s only when she insults him, thereby ruining the prospect of the match, that she feels the first fluttering of passion.
Director Rama Burshentein offers a fascinating portrait of Hasidic Jews, a community of law and ritual that is also one of mutual support and interconnectivity. Fill the Void beautifully depicts a family bearing the weight of sorrow, and a young girl’s struggle to fulfill her obligations to others and herself. As Shira, actress Hadas Yaron conveys with subtle grace the painful journey of a girl leaving the reveries of youth for the realities of womanhood. The ending scene evokes The Graduate: Shira makes her choice, with no idea where her path will lead.