'Jane Austen of the Hasidic world' premieres in Venice

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Israeli director Rama Burshtein's coming of age tale "Lemale Et Ha'Chalal" ("Fill the Void"), shown at the Venice film festival on Sunday, is "a Jane Austen of the Hasidic world," its producer said.

The moving story, based on a young woman's dilemma about whether to marry her dead sister's widower, is also an intimate portrayal of an Orthodox Hasidic community in the secular city of Tel Aviv, where the drama is set.

"This community in Israel is very secluded and we see them in a kind of black and white way. This is a unique way to have a voice heard from the inside," the producer, Assaf Amir, said at a press conference in Venice.

"Rama is a pioneer in that sense. She is the first woman from that world to make a film and I don't think there are any men making any," Amir said, comparing the movie to the novels of British literary great Austen.

"Lemale Et Ha'Chalal" is Burshtein's first feature film and is one of 18 flicks vying for the Golden Lion prize at the world's oldest film festival.

Burshtein said she had based the film on a real-life story she heard at a wedding. "I was fascinated. I was asking myself how is that? Is it about feelings? Is it about family? Is it about duty?" she said.

"She is a child but she is becoming a woman as the movie goes along. The story is about a girl becoming a woman in the oddest circumstances," she said.

The tension between tradition-bound lives and raw emotions welling up is one of the highlights of the beautifully shot film.

Hadas Yaron, who is herself secular and plays the character of the young girl Shira, said: "It was a lot of work getting to know that world.

"It's all about emotions and choices and what leads you (to) do what you do. Shira is different from me because she's not familiar with all these feelings that she's experiencing for the first time," she said.

Irit Sheleg, who plays Shira's mother in the film, said the story highlights the crucial roles of women: "In the film the people who do business are the women. They are very strong, very dominant."

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