VENICE, Italy – Israeli director Rama Burshtein provides an intimate look inside the private world of Tel Aviv's Hasidic community in the film "Fill the Void," which premiered this weekend in competition at the Venice Film Festival.
A Hasidic Jew herself, Burshtein said she wanted to create a portrait of family life within the community without presenting it in conflict with the secular world.
"The Orthodox world is so interesting it does not need to cope with the secular," Burshtein told a news conference Sunday. "It can be very interesting and the drama can be very strong inside."
The film is about an 18-year-old girl named Shira who struggles with whether she wants to marry her brother-in-law, Yochay, after her sister Esther dies giving birth. The decision is all Shira's, despite the strict formality within the community, and the movie ultimately is a story about facing a difficult decision and becoming a woman.
"It's all about emotions and choices and what leads you to do what you do," said actress Hadas Yaron, who played Shira. "I'm also young. But Shira is different from me because she is not familiar with all these feelings she experiences for the first time."
The movie shows intimate rituals of the Hasidic community, from Esther's funeral to her infant son's circumcision ceremony immediately after, Sabbath dinner and the workings of the matchmaker, who helps broker marriages as girls reach Shira's age.
The community, while residing inside the bustling and secular city of Tel Aviv, is very self-contained. In one scene, as the men study, someone gets up to close the windows that allow sounds of secular Tel Aviv to drift inside.
"This moment in the movie really gives the idea of being in the environment," said Yiftach Klein, who plays the brother-in-law Yochay.
Burshein, 45, was born in New York and graduated from film school in Jerusalem in 1994. During that period, she became deeply religious. She has since been making films within the Orthodox community to help promote self-expression.
"I love this world. I chose this world. I was not born to this world," she said.
She said, however, that the Hasidic world did not appear inviting when she first contemplated it from the outside 20 years ago.
"Part of that was because how I thought they saw women," she said. Once inside, however, she said she found she liked traditional roles between men and women.
"I love my role as a woman. I feel it is true. I chose it. It doesn't stop me from doing films, but the way I see the home, between a man and a woman, I love it like this. It is more sexy."