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American-Israeli director Rama Burshtein, who opened up new vistas on the Hasidic community in Tel Aviv in her bright, dramatic first feature Fill the Void, offers a more independent view on marriage traditions in Through the Wall. Though still told from a woman’s point of view, the story takes a comic look at the question of finding a groom for a desperate spinster of 32. But once again the underlying narrative force arises from its heroine’s unshakable faith in God and the drama of how it is tested. This enjoyable Match Factory release should prove just as popular abroad as the director’s debut film, which won protag Hadas Yaron the best actress award at Venice.
Far from the closed, stuffy rooms of Fill the Void, here the filming takes place in wide open spaces full of options and choices, and the focus is on an individual rather than a community.
The story revolves around Michal, pretty not beautiful, but played with glowing warmth and bold non-conformity by Noa Koler. When her fiance, the sad-eyed Gidi, calls off their wedding a month before the event because he doesn’t love her, she is devastated but not defeated. Astonishing her family, friends and the owner of the marriage hall Shimi (Amos Tamam), she decides to get married on schedule. After all, the wedding hall is booked for the 8th day of Hanukah and all the guests are invited — all that’s missing is the groom, a detail she feels God can surely take care of, given a month’s time.
The first part of the film will probably connect most easily with female viewers, who can identify with her concerns when she consults Hulda, an expert in removing the evil eye from the unfortunate. In a nervous, tightly edited scene, the disenchanted older woman forces Michal to admit the real reason she wants to get married so badly: to feel normal and respected, to have security, to be loved. Her sincerity is touching.
The following scenes humorously sketch her search for a groom on a series of blind dates arranged by a matchmaker: a man who refuses to look at her, a deaf man who communicates through an interpreter, a seemingly perfect mate who appears to enjoy her nutty energy. All are of religious persuasion, which is the only non-negotiable quality Michal seeks in a husband. But on each date, her honesty and unique personality burst forth, scaring off the prospective groom.
For one thing, she earns her living running a “petting zoo” and it includes bunny rabbits and snakes, which she drives around in a truck to children’s parties. Her non-religious mom (Irit Sheleg) and sister (Dafi Alpern) are highly skeptical that a miracle is going to happen. On the other hand, her sister is convinced against all odds that her estranged husband is going to come back to her, even though he calls the cops to keep her from screaming abuse under his window. Michal’s best friends are also unexpected: a girl in a wheelchair with ALS and the loyal Feigi (Ronny Merhavi), who wears her long blonde hair in dreadlocks and is her own woman in the clothes department.
When all seems lost, Michal boards a Ukraine-bound bus on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Rebbe Nachman in Uman, where her anguished prayers seem to be answered in an encounter with a dazzling, super-cool rock star (Oz Zehavi of Yossi). But the stark fact is that Michal is her own worst enemy in courtship, simultaneously putting herself down, and beyond reach.
As the days pass the suspense grows; no groom is in sight, and Michal is visibly shaken. But she refuses to back down, despite her mother’s entreaties, and faces her wedding with characteristic chutzpah and the conviction that her faith is being tested. The climactic final scene at the wedding hall begins as grotesque and humiliating, then slowly the threads come together, while Burshtein mischievously plays with perceptions about whether the unfolding miracle is a fantasy or not.
Production company: Norma Productions
Cast: Noa Koler, Amos Tamam, Oz Zehavi, Irit Sheleg, Ronny Merhavi, Dafi Alpern, Oded Leopold, Udi Pers, Jonathan Rozen
Director, screenwriter: Rama Burshtein
Producer: Assaf Amir
Director of photography: Amit Yasour
Production designer: Ori Aminov
Costume designers: Hava Levy Rozalski
Editor: Yael Hersonski
Music: Roy Edri
Casting director: Michal Koren
World sales: The Match Factory
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