The appeal of foreign films is that they take audiences to all corners of the world and intimate places within those faraway spaces. And the Israeli film Fill the Void is, more than many such films, an invitation into a culture seldom displayed on big movie screens.
Given the strict stratification of male and female roles within ultra-Orthodox Jewish families, especially those in the homeland, the film is perhaps most revolutionary for having been directed by a woman, Rama Burshtein. Her film about two families' sudden plan to supplant for a dead wife her young available sister is an accomplished and intense drama that has almost Chekhovian overtones.
The movie opens with a mother and her 18-year-old daughter, Shira (Hadas Yaron) scoping out a potentially suitable mate at a Tel Aviv grocery store. Shira approves and assumes her destiny until her sister, Esther (Renana Raz), dies in childbirth. In the midst of the grief, a buzz begins about poor, widowed Yochay (Yiftach Klein) and what kind of life he might now have as a single father in a culture that dictates marriage.
As the young Shira, whose life has now veered astray from the expected course, Yaron is marvelous. Her divided family and devoted rabbis bring a range of emotions about the arrangement - some bless it while others detest it - and all of those feelings appear on the actress's lovely conflicted face.
The struggle also arises in her accordion playing. In one scene, set in what appears to be a kindergarten, her jubilant melodies get the kids dancing until she's overcome by her predicament and the tones switch to sad and mournful. The little ones' quizzical faces parallel Shira's own plight and she takes on the demeanor of a battered child who must succumb to a history not of her making. It's one beautiful moment among many in this alternately heartbreaking and sweet film.