Director Joshua Weinstein presents an intimately heartbreaking and painstakingly accurate depiction of the Hasidim living in Brooklyn in Menashe, a tale loosely based on the life of its star, Menashe Lustig. Menashe lost his wife a year prior to the events of the film, and Hasidic law dictates his son Rieven must be raised with a complete family (we even learn that should Menashe remarry, the stepmother wouldn't be allowed to touch his son). Thus, Rieven is sent to live with Menashe's brother, a decidedly humorless stickler for rules who affords Menashe little respect and imposes the strictest of upbringings on his nephew.
Thematically, the film could have played out in any sort of community—love, loss and the underdog are universal—but by delving deep into the laws, customs and everyday lives of Hasidic Jews in New York, we are given a rarely-seen glimpse into a sect that operates in plain view but whose inner-workings remain unknown to most.
Lustig is phenomenal as the downtrodden father figure caught between his religion and love for his son. He's far from perfect, and his penchant for cracking jokes damages his credibility in the eyes of his brethren. But observing constant humiliation driven by his boss, his brother, his rabbi or at arranged dates makes us root for him, even as he struggles to pay rent, feed his son and get to work on time.
Menashe is presented primarily in Yiddish, and Weinsten goes so far as to cast ultra-orthodox New Yorkers, most of whom perform without a film credit. Not only does this add unprecedented authenticity to the film, it surprises with each natural performance; this is as real as it gets.
Add fantastic examples of traditional Jewish music and just enough humor and heart, and we've got one of the most fascinating and engrossing films of the year.
+ Painstakingly authentic
- A little short
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Directed by Weinstein
With Lustig Center for Contemporary Arts,