December 10, 2012

Filling The Void

Israel is changing. Slowly and cautiously, secular Israelis are meeting the religious world.  I had such an encounter last night when I went to see the award-winning film ‘Lemaleh et haHallal,’ or ‘Filling the Void.’

We were in a movie theater in Herzeliya, where the audience looked to be about 90% secular.  The movie was 110% religious. The people sat respectfully, hushed. They laughed at the humor and they cried when there was tragedy on screen. And I am sure that when they left the movie theater, they had a better appreciation of the Israeli Hareidi world. This is exactly what motivated Rama Burshtein, the director to make this movie.

In fact, she did such an exquisite job, I felt as if I were sitting right in the fictional family’s apartment. I could practically feel the splashing of water in their kitchen sink, the deep sobs of loss, and the sipping of wine at a Purim seuda.  The punctuated silences often rang louder than words. The camera angles were so fresh and unique, we felt as if we were participating in their lives. One moment, we were an infant before his bris watching rabbis lean over him , then we were a mourner sitting shiva, and a guest being blessed by a bride with true kavannah.  

And I felt as if this on-screen Hasidic family were royalty. They spoke respectfully to each other, they dressed beautifully and they strove to do the right thing. In every action, there was a higher purpose.

As I left the movie theater, I felt elated as if I had finally seen the perfect film; no swearing, no violence and no nudity. Nothing blew up. And yet, it was full of tension, drama, depth and spirit.

When I read about the making of this movie, I really saw how these two worlds are meeting and evolving together. The film director used secular Israelis actors. Since they had little contact with the Hareidi world, these actors had to become immersed in religious customs,  practices and etiquette. Later, when they were on set in their costumes, they worked side by side with religious people who were doing the wardrobe and sets. Apparently, the secular and the religious crew looked so seemless, men could only tell who was who by pulling on beards.

I sincerely hope this is the beginning of a new, powerful genre of films in this country. Filling the Void fills a cinematic gap like never before. 

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