Hasidic family drama ‘Menashe’ hits universal notes – St. Louis … – St. Louis Jewish Light

Posted By on August 24, 2017

Menashe is a heartfelt Yiddish-language drama about a widowed Hasidic father trying to regain custody of his son. Director and co-writer Joshua Weinstein gives us an intriguing glimpse inside New Yorks Hasidic community, although it is not always an affectionate one. Still, this is an excellent little film that offers realism and a touching story.

Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is a gentle, chubby, rather-disheveled man in his mid-30s who has been struggling emotionally and financially since the death of his wife. His rabbi (Meyer Schwartz) has decreed that the widowers 10-year-old son Rieven (Ruben Niborski) must live with Menashes married and more prosperous brother-in-law Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus) until Menashe remarries.

Menashe is determined to prove that he is capable of taking care of his son.

Reason exists for the rabbi to be concerned about Menashes ability to care for his son. Menashe barely makes enough money to survive with his job at a small grocery. Yet he is often late and doesnt seem to take his work seriously. His cramped apartment is disorganized. He seems barely able to take care of himself, much less a child. So it is not surprising that the rabbi would place the boy with his late mothers more successful brother.

Menashe resents Eizik taking over his parental role. The situation is made worse by Eiziks disapproving attitude towards his sisters underachieving husband. Although Menashe has allowed the matchmaker to arrange a few meetings for him, he seems in no hurry to remarry and is determined to get his son back regardless.

The plot is loosely based on Lustigs life and was filmed in the insular Orthodox community where it is set. Weinstein, a documentary filmmaker making a foray into fictional film, is Jewish but not Orthodox and does not speak Yiddish. However, he went within the Hasidim to cast Yiddish speakers who are not actors for his low-key, thoughtful film.

Weinsteins experience in documentaries helps Menashe achieve a remarkable degree of authenticity and naturalness. His background also probably helped him to get moving and equally natural performances from his cast.

A lot is good, even excellent, in this film, which has a relaxed naturalism and is remarkably free of the exaggeration and stereotyping that often surround portrayals of the Hasidim in film.

On the other hand, Weinstein does inject some criticism of Hasidic views, which some audience members may find off-putting, less for his opinions on attitudes toward women and marriage than for the rather ham-handed manner in which they are presented.

Lustig is excellent as Menashe, a likable fellow whose struggles touch our hearts even when we see he is sometimes his own worst enemy. He shows a real gift for conveying his characters inner thoughts and feelings, whether it is his frustrations and resentment toward his brother-in-law or his intense love of his son.

In many ways, the plot is structured like any custody battle, with the controlling brother-in-law setting limits on Menashes contact with his son. The story is specific to its setting among the Hasidim, but the emotions in this family drama are universal.

The cinematography contributes much to the dramatic power of this moving, insightful drama. Weinstein opens and closes the film with shots of Menashe on the crowded streets of Brooklyns Hasidic community in Borough Park, where the film was shot, often in secret.Most of the film, however, is shot in a closely framed style, creating a feeling of confinement that reflects Menashes feelings. Only when he spends time with his son does the cameras view open up.

Menashe is an involving, realistic, warm family drama that offers a rare peek inside a little seen world. It is a film well worth your time.

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Hasidic family drama 'Menashe' hits universal notes - St. Louis ... - St. Louis Jewish Light

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