March 6, 2015 – 05:42 pm

The story told by Rama Burshtein in “Fill the Void, ” her remarkable debut feature, has an almost classical simplicity. Shira (Hadas Yaron), a young woman living in an ultra-Orthodox enclave in Tel Aviv, faces a choice not unlike those faced by the heroines of Jane Austen novels and Hollywood romantic comedies. Which man will she marry? For Shira, this is an especially agonizing question because it forces her to weigh the claims of family loyalty, religious duty and her own desires. After a courtship conducted according to the rules of her community — where marriages are not precisely arranged, but brokered and facilitated by parents and professional matchmakers — Shira is engaged to a soft-spoken, ginger-bearded fellow. Her happiness is quickly overshadowed by the death of her beloved older sister, Esther (Renana Raz), who leaves behind a newborn son and a husband, Yochay (Yiftach Klein). As the family struggles with grief, the possibility begins to emerge that Yochay might marry Shira. Nobody suggests that this is a perfect or even a comfortable solution, but it offers some practical and emotional advantages, especially to Shira’s mother (Irit Sheleg), who can’t bear the thought that Yochay might leave Israel with her only grandchild. But though Shira and her brother-in-law get along reasonably well, the idea that she could replace Esther shocks her conscience and her sense of propriety. Ms. Burshtein emphasizes both the loneliness of her heroine’s predicament and its implications for those closest to her. — A. O. Scott


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