menashe

Menashe (PG) 7, 9, 10 May

Mild themes


USA 2017
Director: Joshua Z Weinstein
Featuring: Menashe Lustig, Yoel Falkowitz, Hershy Fishman
Running time: 82 minutes
Original review: Paul Byrnes, Sydney Morning Herald
Extracted by: Anne Green


Joshua Weinstein depicts the life and travails of one man in a Brooklyn Hasidic community. A beautiful opening shot shows a street full of men in big hats and an occasional woman in a shawl. The camera uses a long lens, as if to say, these people are a long way from the rest of us.

Into the frame walks Menashe (actor and character), a pudgy man with a red beard and pale skin. He doesn’t wear the traditional black hat and black overcoat, but we see the tassles and ringlets of hair that come with Hasidism. Menashe works in a small grocery store, earning little money. He prays several times a day, like a good Hasid, but he seems out of sorts. His boss bawls him out, and he’s always late. Then we learn he is a widower and has a son. If Menashe doesn’t find a new wife soon, they will kick his son out of religious school, because only children from two-parent families can go there. The problem is Menashe doesn’t want a new wife: he didn’t like being married the first time.

The boy Rieven (Ruben Niborski) is about 11. He now lives with his uncle Iezik (Yoel Weisshaus), who gives Menashe no respect. The movie takes off as we learn what troubles Menashe. His heart is broken by having to live apart from his son, on top of the guilt of losing his wife. Now we have a whole world of drama within this one life and the movie is no longer so modest.

Character is always more important than plot in this kind of filmmaking, and character offers greater rewards, if you have an actor good enough to carry the audience. This Menashe is such an actor, perhaps because he is cast so close to his own life. He can’t take a trick but he loves his son and he will fight to get him back. The boy is perfectly cast, too – confused, upset, but open and impressionable. It’s a film that just keeps getting stronger as it goes, unfolding almost imperceptibly and becoming deeper with each scene. It’s bold and sensitive and taken from life. Just when you thought such movies were gone forever…

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