As evidenced by her resonant drama Fill The Void, writer/director Rama Burshtein knows how to craft first rate storytelling with an impending marriage as its backdrop. With The Wedding Plan we follow the misadventures of Michal (a standout performance from Noa Koler), a strong minded and stubborn woman who is determined to get married within 30 days even if a groom doesn’t show up!
Michal’s insistence that a marriage will take place is rooted in her religious faith (she’s an Orthodox Jew) that God will provide her a husband and ease her loneliness. Though her love for God is commendable, her goal of getting hitched even after her fiance (Erez Drigues) admits he’s not in love is a bit unrealistic. As evidenced by her career (she owns a mobile petting zoo), Michal is a refreshingly independent thinker, and she goes on a series of blind dates to find her Mr. Right. Oz Zehavi plays a pop star who unexpectedly enters Michal’s life during her dilemma and Amos Tamam is the owner of the wedding banquet who helps Michal the hopeful celebration.
Along with Koler’s winning work as the unpredictable and candid Michal, The Wedding Plan is also powered by an excellent screenplay from Burshtein Even though it’s a romantic comedy, the film doesn’t go for cheap laughs or devolve into a saccharine mess. Burshtein finds light and a bit of darkness in every day situations, and it’s the dialogue that Koler has with her family and these individually distinct suitors that makes The Wedding Plan a feature that’s worth a look.
Now out on DVD via Lionsgate, The Wedding Plan’s special features include a photo gallery. My only complaint is that a Burshtein audio commentary or a featurette would have been welcome, especially since The Wedding Plan is simply a wonderful film.
Opening Friday, Fill the Void centers on the inner and emotional journey of Shira (Hadas Yaron), an 18-year-old who holds a close bond with her Orthodox Hassidic family. Ensconced in this world of deep faith and tradition, she is more than ready for her own arranged marriage.
When her older sister (Renana Raz) dies during childbirth, Shira is pressured by her mother to marry her late sibling’s husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein). If this awkward courtship fails and Shira rejects this union, Yochay may take his son to Belgium, where another woman is ready for marriage.
Upon first glance, Fill the Void’s Tel Aviv set world will appear foreign to many moviegoers. The narrative’s heart, however, lies in the arresting love story that gradually blooms between the two leads. Yaron and Klein have innate chemistry, and the tension that fills each room they inhabit is, for lack of a better word, palpable. The feature is also armed with director Rama Burshtein’s surefooted storytelling, and the visual compositions she and her cinematographer create on such a low budget reinforces the theory that beautiful looking films can still be shot on the cheap.
During our phone interview with Burshtein, the filmmaker stressed the importance of honesty in storytelling. Fill the Void achieves that goal and thankfully so much more.
Outbreak: The film is beautifully lit and shot, and even though it’s set in a seemingly closed environment the look of the feature gives the narrative a rather expansive and sumptuous feel. Can you talk about how you came up with the visual aesthetic for Fill The Void?
Burshtein: First of all, thank you very much. One of the wisest decisions of the film was to get this photographer, who is totally a genius. His name is Asaf Sudri. This is a very low budget film and we knew it was about the frame and about lighting. The one thing that was very important for me was to try and find a way to show that the real location is the girl’s heart. How do you shoot the heart? We decided that it’s rooms and doors that open and close. It’s close-ups – yet it’s on a widescreen. All we had was the frame so we had to color it right and light it great. We knew we had to depend on the actors and the shots because there was no money there or anything else. He understood me better than I understood myself! I couldn’t ask for more.
Outbreak: How did you find Hadas Yaron for Shira?
Burshtein: I almost closed with another actress and then I decided (the character) had to be younger. So I started auditioning again. I saw all the young girls in Israel. Really, I saw so many girls. None of them brought me what I wanted. And then she walked in. The minute I saw her I just started laughing because I just knew it was her. She was just Shira. It’s very hard to find someone that is just perfect for the role. She auditioned and as my mother used to say, “that’s all she wrote.” I think (finding Hadas) was the most exciting moment of the making of this film.
Outbreak: An author once told me that when his books aren’t finished until the readers actually respond and take ownership of the material. Can you relate to this sentiment?
Burshtein: With this film, the viewers actually make the film. I knew exactly what I was doing, but then when people started seeing it, even in the editing room, everyone saw a different film. It was very weird. Some saw a love film and some saw her as a victim. It moved everyone, but in different ways. I had to let go, and it was very frightening to let go.
When you do a film, it’s all about energy. If nothing really happens, it’s all open to interpretation. So for me the film is owned by the viewers. They decide what this film is about. For me, this project was very interesting and surprising. I’m not a genius to manipulate (the film) in that way.
Outbreak: On a basic level, this is a very specific story. But in a way, do you feel the movie has universal themes?
Burshtein: I think the specific part of it is there are a set of rules in that world. But it’s a love story. That’s very universal. It always is. So I didn’t have a big frame. I’m simple. I’m a storyteller. I’m not about telling a wider story of a world. It’s not me. I’m into very small, detailed stories of humans. So I didn’t mean that. But because of the success of the film around the world, that meant that people related to that small story.
Outbreak: In creating a story, how important is following your instincts throughout the process?
Burshtein: I think what makes a director or a writer talented is having honesty with (themselves), which is very hard. You can write something and know inside that something is not working and say, “Well it’s going to work out when I’m directing it.” And then you lose it.
It’s the process of being honest all the way – that’s the only thing makes a talented writer, director, or an actor. When I teach, I actually teach honesty.