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Review: ‘Fill the Void’ a quirky, but human drama

In the new movie Fill the Void, a young girl and her mother reconnoiter a supermarket in Tel Aviv, looking for someone. He is a nerdy young man with the dark hat and the side curls of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. He uses his shirt to wipe his eyeglasses. The two watch him, without announcing their presence. The mother speculates that her daughter may have to do a lot of laundry after they are married since it’s clear he doesn’t have a clean handkerchief.

This is the world of negotiated, but not arranged, marriage among the ultra-Orthodox, and Fill the Void is the story of the young girl, Shira, played by the remarkable Hadas Yaron.

Swiftly, in several unsettling scenes, the marriage plan derails when the nerdy man’s family rejects Shira; her pregnant sister dies; the baby survives, and the family, especially Shira’s mother, is shattered. A proposal arrives: The widower, Shira’s brother-in-law, could marry a Belgian woman, but it would mean the baby would leave Tel Aviv. The grandmother becomes even more distraught. An alternative plan is hatched: Shira, 18, could marry her brother-in-law, who is in his 20s.

Complications follow in this superb debut by writer/director Rama Burshtein, an Orthodox Israeli woman. It’s accessible and profound because of the economy of the dialogue, the beauty of the cinematography and the acting of a skilled ensemble.

The movie is also — the word cannot be avoided — quirky. Shira plays the accordion, and at one point, she performs happy songs for kindergarteners and then absent-mindedly slips into funereal music, puzzling the children. An aunt is revealed to have no arms. And, in an especially wry scene, a senior rabbi interrupts an important meeting to advise a distraught old woman what kind of oven she should buy.

And yet, the movie is, like all good movies, not at all strange, but about the human condition.