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Israeli drama ‘Fill the Void’ is more bland than complex

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Fill the Void offers an occasionally fascinating glimpse into a rigidly structured culture.

Two and a half stars

Fill the Void Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg. Directed by Rama Burshtein. Rated PG. Opens Friday.

Although its touchstone is supposedly the works of Jane Austen, the Israeli drama Fill the Void has none of Austen’s sparkling wit or romantic repartee. Instead it’s a rather dour examination of the aftermath of a tragedy, and the subsequent response within the ultra-traditional Orthodox Jewish community. The void of the title is left by Esther, older sister of wide-eyed teenager Shira (Hadas Yaron). When Esther dies in childbirth, leaving behind a husband and a newborn son, Shira’s mother hopes to arrange a marriage between Shira and Esther’s widower Yochay (Yiftach Klein).

The glimpse into the rigidly structured Orthodox culture is sometimes fascinating but often disappointingly inert, as is the family drama that unfolds as Shira and Yochay struggle to determine their future. Writer-director Rama Burshtein tries to present a believable romance in the midst of familial negotiations and hierarchical decrees, but the rules of their courtship mean that Shira and Yochay are barely able to interact. Burshtein nevertheless shoots nearly every scene in gauzy soft focus, which just makes it look like a hokey soap opera. And the attempt at a romantic tone is at odds with the way that Shira (mainly) and Yochay (to a lesser extent) lack agency in determining their own marital fates.

Although Yaron gives Shira an appealing vitality, she ends up mostly an observer in her own story, and the narrative proceeds in a fairly obvious fashion, once the potential marriage is set in motion. Burshtein offers up a somewhat unsettling final scene, but otherwise Fill the Void is a frustratingly bland look at the customs of a complex subculture.

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