Israel does not have the film industry you might expect. One of the most unified countries in the world you might have thought it would produce films glorifying its past achievements but Exodus was made by Ottto Preminger and Raid on Entebbe by Irvin Kirschner. Famously at the premier of Exodus, a four hour film, the comedian Mort Sanl stood up and said “Let Thy People Go”.
Recent Israeli films tend to be critical of the state. The Lemon Tree featured an Israeli politician appropriating and tearing down the lemon grove of a Palestinian neighbour and the unlikely relationship between his sensitive wife and the lady owner of the Grove. It was a tender allegory of Israel.
Fill the Void is set in the highly orthodox Hassidic community. Aside from Fiddler of the Roof there has not been a long list of such films. It’s a community where the Rabbi rules and there is strict adherence to the Talmud and a code of conduct. The youngest of three sisters Shira (Hadas Yaron) is betrothed to another in an arranged marriage. She is delighted to be a bride. However her eldest sister dies suddenly in late pregnancy and she comes under great pressure to marry her brother-in-law Yocha.
The community is well observed in the film. Unlike some adherents to an extreme form of religion the Orthodox Jew or Hassid is no ascetic. The film begins with a dinner to celebrate the festival of Purim and there is much drinking and singing though women are excluded from the table. Feminism has no status in this community. Politically the orthodox party has played a disproportionate role in Israeli government. With proportional representation and consequent difficulty in forming a government, the small orthodox party can and is decisive and demands favours for their support. Jerusalem is more or less controlled by them and in its most religious quarter the Meer Sharim woman and men cannot sit together on the bus. There is no civil divorce in Israel, it is the rabbi that provides the decree know as the Gett.
The film was well-acted but lacked tempo. Little happened beyond what I have described and the ending is somewhat flat. I do not know how the Hassidic community reacted to it. It is a closed one and would not have appreciated intrusion much of it unsympathetic. The director and screen writer Rama Burshstein who also appears in the film would have held views I am sure on the subjugation of women and their lack of choice in marriage. The film has never been shown in the UK perhaps reflecting too current attitudes to Israel. I find this rather sad as its hardly chauvinistic and merits a wider audience. Sad but not surprising. I recently attended a dinner where one guest rejoiced in never buying Israeli produce. I explained to her that she may as well chuck away her laptop and mobile phone as the Intel part is made in Israel. Given such hostile attitudes, Israel might consider stopping passing valuable information to the security services here, a key reason why a Paris-style atrocity has been thwarted.