Israeli actress Hadas Yaron, 22, was presented on Saturday night with the best actress prize at the 69th annual Venice Film Festival for her role in "Fill the Void," directed by Rama Burshtein.
Yaron is the only Israeli actress to have won the award. She joins a small club of Israeli actors who have won prizes in the international acting forum, including Hannah Laszlo, who won at Cannes for her role in the 2005 film "Free Zone," and Oded Kotler, who won in the 1960s in Cannes for his role in "Shloshah Yamin Veyeled.”
Yaron was lauded for her achievements, especially given her young age and relatively little big-screen acting experience. "Fill the Void" is only her second film; eight years ago she starred in "Lemarit Ayn" with actress Tali Sharon.
"I was shocked and excited," Yaron said. "This is a moment you can't prepare for. It is beyond my wildest dreams. I thank the team of judges who chose to give me this amazing award. A special thanks to Rama Burshtein and to Assaf Amir who created such an exciting film. Thank you for believing in me from the outset. Working on this film was a prize in itself. I want to thank the miraculous cast of 'Fill the Void' from the bottom of my heart, especially my co-stars, Yiftach Klein and Irit Sheleg, who really brought out my character. I learned how to see people who are different from myself and to believe in the power of love."
The Venice Film Festival's best actress award is considered a prestigious honor and may pave Yaron's way to an international career in cinema. Renowned actresses such as Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Isabelle Huppert and Shirley MacLaine have all won best actress awards in Venice.
"Fill the Void" tells the story of Shira, played by Yaron, an 18-year-old Hasidic girl who is thrilled about her forthcoming arranged marriage with a young man whom she has only briefly seen in a supermarket. Tragedy strikes when Shira's older sister, Esther, dies giving birth, leaving the family crushed by grief. Esther's husband Yochai is quickly pressed to remarry a widow in Belgium, but the girls' mother is desperate to keep her only grandchild in the country — and soon Shira is asked to step into her sister's shoes. The film has earned critical acclaim around the world.
After Yaron was given the prize, Burshtein said, "I am thrilled for Hadas. She deserves this award for her extraordinary talents, which cross borders and languages, and affect the hearts of judges and audiences alike. Words can't describe the experience I had this week [in Venice]. Love, like that described in the film, is stronger than language and culture."
And Amir said, "I am excited about this extraordinary achievement and congratulate Hadas on her win. I want to thank the jury for its confidence in the film and the critics who view it as so unique and universal. The reactions and warmth we received over the past week will accompany me for a long time to come."
The Golden Lion Award, the top prize at the Venice festival, went to "Pieta," by South Korean director Kim Ki-duk. The Silver Lion for best director went to Paul Thomas Anderson for ''The Master," inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, stars of "The Master," shared the prize for best actor.
"Fill the Void" will appear at other festivals in the coming weeks. It is also nominated for 13 Ophir Awards, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars. The film is slated to be released in Israel next month, premiering in Haifa.