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In Jerusalem's orthodox neighborhoods, it's Succoth, seven days celebrating life's essentials in a sukkah, a temporary shack of both deprivation and hospitality. A devout couple, Moshe and Mali, married nearly five years and childless, are broke and praying for a miracle. Suddenly, miracles abound: a friend finds Moshe a sukkah he says is abandoned, Moshe is the beneficiary of local charitable fundraising, and two escaped convicts arrive on Moshe and Mali's doorstep in time to be their ushpizin - their guests. The miracles then become trials. Rabbinical advice, absolution, an effort to avoid anger, and a 1000-shekel citron figure in Moshe's dark night of the soul. Written by
Shuli Rand had two conditions for making this movie, both were met. The first was that his real-life wife, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand, would play his wife in the film. The second is that in Israel the film would not be screened on the Jewish sabbath. See more »
They worked out of luck, out of hope. And faith was all they had to hang on to. But on this holy week, where guests are considered a blessing, these two unexpected visitors bring with them: a secret from the past. A secret that would test their love and challenge their faith. Now only a miracle will turn their fortune around.
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Thoroughly enjoyable -- groundbreaking secular-religious Israeli work
Positive depictions of haredi (so-called-ultra-Orthodox) lifestyle in film, whether American or Israeli, are not common. "Ushpizin" is a delightful little tale, almost a fable, with quite a bit of hidden depth.
Newly religious Moshe and Mali (real-life couple Shuli and Michal Bat-Sheva Rand) desperately need a miracle to get through the holiday of Sukkot. Without any support from Moshe's yeshiva, they are about to be overwhelmed by back rent and other debts. Strict believers in the Breslov tradition, they pray for a miracle, even as it unfolds (a brilliant 3-way inter-cut sequence that is the highlight of the film). Their joy is short-lived, however, when Elihayu and Yosef, unexpected guests from Moshe's pre-Haredi life, join them for the holiday.
The film is surprisingly honest -- Moshe and Mali are placed in the uncomfortable position of practicing genuine hospitality and tolerance to those who attitudes and actions place them diametrically opposed to everything the haredi couple stand for. Indeed, when Eliyahu and Yosef blast their music in the middle of the haredi neighborhood, a lynch mob nearly forms, the isolationist side of Haredi life raising its ugly head to keep its own courtyards clean of the outside world. There is a certain sense in the movie that Breslov chasidim distinguish themselves from the other sects in truly practicing love and outreach, coupled with unshakable belief.
Shuli Rand's portrayal of Moshe, which is probably more than a bit autobiographical, is dead-on: conflicted and uncomfortably reminded of a world he left far behind. The film makes a strong case for Divine Providence in every aspect of every individual's life, and for living up to the challenges and tests that G-d places before you.
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