Menashe hits theaters July 28.
By Jack Faivish
Menashe follows one man’s difficult inner journey as he attempts to maintain a relationship with his son, while the rest of the Hasidic Jewish community tries to pull him away. The titular character is a bit of a “shlimazel” – a hapless man who tries his best but cannot make ends meet, as the other characters of the Yiddish-language film refer to him. The movie has English subtitles, but the dialogue is Yiddish, as is the primary language in Borough Park, the movie’s setting.
When Menashe’s wife dies, he is left with taking care of his 10 year-old son Rieven, but the rest of his insular community is convinced that he is too unkempt to raise his son, especially without a wife. They claim that the Talmud states that a child cannot live without a two-parent home, and if Menashe does not find a marriage partner, they will take away Rieven until he does.
Director Joshua Z. Weinstein has said that he “always wanted to make a film that made people laugh and made people cry at the same time.” He definitely did the former.
This is by no means a funny film, but there are comedic moments interspersed throughout. One of them included Rieven complaining to his father about how his aunt only cooks kugel, and others just showed Menashe being himself. He genuinely seemed like he would be a really energetic and lively man in a better situation.
As for the latter, the film’s ending was unfullfilling. I was a bit surprised that there was no more concrete ending. The final scene was ambiguous, leaving viewers wanting more. The film makers did give us a symbolic message though.
That would be my only criticism of the film. Outside of the ending, the movie was absolutely fantastic and incredibly well done. Menashe was raw and gripping and the characters felt real.
The film was an immersive portrayal of an entire community, one which most outsiders don’t know about. Menashe Lustig does a fantastic job acting in a movie based loosely on his own life story. The ending was certainly not great, and I would’ve preferred something far different, but outside of that it was an excellent film, and I would recommend it to most moviegoers.
I give Menashe an A-.