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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
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.
"Ha Ushpizin" is like a cross between Isaac Bashevis Singer and O.
Henry stories brought to life in contemporary Jerusalem.
Set just before and during the fall harvest festival of Succoth, it is a modern retelling of the story from Genesis and its accompanying Midrash (extra-Biblical story) of Abraham encouraging guests (the title in Aramaic) to his house, that has become a mitzvah (obligation) for holidays. It is a thoroughly charming story of faith and love - and how maintaining both is a daily struggle requiring patience and humor and can even replace therapy.
What makes the film so involving emotionally is the superb acting. In Q & A at the Tribeca Film Festival the Orthodox writer/star and secular director explained they came up with the film, which was inspired by an actual incident that is used as a plot point, and worked diligently to get rabbinical approval by meeting certain restrictions, in order to put a human face behind the head coverings and beards of the Ultra Orthodox in Israel to help ease the tensions between their community ("the Hats" as they are called in short hand) and the majority secular citizens of Israel.
Shuli Rand was a leading film and theater actor before he gave up a secular life for a religious one, much as his character has only been religious for a few years after a somewhat shady past that in the film literally comes back to haunt him. His wife and co-star Michal Bat-Sheva Rand had been a theater director in her past and only agreed to act in this film as that was one of the rabbi's requirements for approval; a story about a couple had to be portrayed by an actual married pair. Practically swaddled burkha-like and almost as wide as she is tall, she unpredictably dominates the screen and takes it above any other more anthropological film about traditional families from any part of the world.
The modern sociological examinations are limited to having the only secular characters in the film be somewhat stereotyped; the kindliest one can say about them is that they are like citizens of Chelm or descendants of Vladimir and Estragon when they are comic relief or a menacing Laurel and Hardy.
There is some gentle clear-eyed look at the Ultra Orthodox as not serving in the Army and living only on charity that they mostly collect like Hare Krishnas in the street or from guilt-ridden Modern Orthodox businessmen that is then distributed based on the internal politics of their affiliated yeshiva.
I also have qualms about prayer being used for such personal propitiation as the couple do here, but that aspect is directed so delightfully and heartwarmingly that it's Scrooge-like to complain.
The visuals of the community of Mea Shearim, the Ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood where the film is set, with the temporary Succoth (booths for outdoor eating) set up throughout of various materials, are marvelous views that outsiders rarely get to see.
When it is released in Fall 2005 in the U.S. (with special screenings set up for the Hassidic communities that cannot attend secular theaters with mixed audiences) I doubt viewers will get to participate in the kind of lively and colorful audience I did at the Museum of Jewish Heritage which included almost every possible age and affiliation of New York Jews, particularly from Brooklyn, and some non-Jewish out-of-towners in for the Festival.
But all the Orthodox attendees wanted to know was how the secular director could not be inspired to take the pledge, as it were, after making such a film? He pointed out that his sound designer was so inspired - who stood up to much cheering from many in the crowd.
Ushpizin is about a "chozer b'tshuva" (recently religious) Jerusalem
couple whose faith is tested repeatedly during the Succot holiday. Will
their faith hold as the tests get harder and harder? Will G-d send them
the miracles they need? Familiar references spring to mind, from the
biblical story of Avraham and Sarah, to traditional tales of shtetl
life, to the stories of S.Y. Agnon. Yet the contemporary context makes
it a highly original work. The film manages to retain and build
dramatic tension. It successfully portrays strong emotions including
anger, frustration, love, gratitude, and faith without becoming overly
The main couple is played by actors who are married in real life and also religious in real life (he wrote the script). Their love, clearly visible, is one of the nicest parts of the story.
The criminals who come to stay as guests during the holiday ("Ushpizin" in Hebrew) are a bit too cartooned at times, but are not all bad.
It's nice to see a Jerusalem that really exists: a place of material poverty but spiritual wealth, home to an imperfect but caring community that finds meaning in the fulfillment of mitzvahs (commandments).
Israeli cinema continues to surprise us. Not knowing anything about
what this film was about, we went on the strength of the trailers we
had watched. Giddi Dar, the director of "Ushpizin", is a secular man
who has created a wonderful movie of hope and faith, based on the
screen play by its star, Shuli Rand.
This story might be set in Israel, but it will probably resonate in audiences that go to see it with an open mind because it can be translated to other cultures. "Ushpizin" presents us an Orthodox Jewish couple that can hardly make ends meet. A religious feast is dawning on Moshe and Malli and they don't have enough to eat themselves, expecting somehow in a miracle to solve their situation. Moshe is a man that had a dubious past and has decided to become religious as a way to atone. Malli hasn't been able to conceive, a thorn in their hearts because both want a baby desperately.
When a mysterious envelope is slid under their door, Malli is shocked to find a thousand dollars in it. That seems to be the solution to their monetary problems. At the same time, we have witnessed a distraught Moshe praying for a miracle. The couple is not prepared for the unexpected riches they get, the only thing is they don't have anyone to invite to partake of the feast Malli has prepared.
Moshe's problems start just as the couple is going to begin eating, two strange men appear at their door. They are Eliyaher and Yossef, two convicts that knew Moshe in his prior life. The Bellangas believe this is another miracle because the best way to celebrate the feast is to have guests to share it with. Moshe and Malli are in for a rude awakening.
The film works because of the fine work of all the principals who play their roles convincingly. Shuli Rand is excellent. Michal Rand, makes the long suffering Malli a woman the viewer can identify with.
The film is almost a fable with a marvelous ending that will bring smiles to the viewer. Giddi Gar, the director, has to be congratulated for making this such a personal and, at the same time, universal story, come true for everyone's delight.
The movie gives you a chance to think what are miracles, are they
worthed and how much do you have to pay for them.
The Bellangas live in deep poverty. They are so poor that they have nothing to eat, and they cannot buy anything for the coming festival of Succot.They are also waiting more than 5 years for a child. But a miracle happens and they get 1000$ and a Succah.
However, 2 former friends, who are escaping criminals come as guests for the holiday. The Bellangas will have to pass a trial of hospitality before the movie ends.
I really enjoyed the movie which gave me plenty of things to think about. Are we really important in this world? What are our daily trials? How do we face them?
It's quite hard for me to speak about this film without referring to
the context of the delicate balance of relations between religious and
non-religious people in Israel. This film is made mostly by religious
people, and the whole story is told from the perspective of the deep
believers. Jewish religious Jerusalem looks beautiful in this film, and
it's no better moment to put it on screen than the festival of Succot.
Still, the world and life of the religious people in Israel is much
more complicated, and the problems they face are quite different, but
this is not what this story is about.
What this is indeed about is about what does influence our lives. The main characters are a born-again Jew and his wife, living at the brink of their resources a life of devotion and religious studies. Many things happen to them in the few days before and during the holiday, and these can be explained as miracles dictated by God, or by circumstances of hazard. Of course, the characters are true believers, they speak to God, and know that God rewards them or punishes them for their deeds, but is not this the result of their imagination derived from their deep belief? The director makes for most of the film no comment and lets the viewers decide by themselves. Only by the end, in the last minutes he decides to become explicit, and this is a mistake in my opinion. The kind of Hollywood style ending adopted by this film is sometimes called 'Deus ex machina' and never was the name more appropriate.
Acting is wonderful, both of the religious people looking like characters descending directly from Bashevis Singer's books, as well as the non-religious ones, although their characters are closer to stereotypes. The film was originally made for TV, I believe, with a small budget, it still is true and sincere and funny in many moments. I am looking forward to see how it will be received by the North American audiences.
"Sad to be all alone in the world" WIthout children there is no laughter.... so starts the struggle of a Baal Tshuvah (returnees to Judaisn) family in Israel in the huge Breslower chassidic community. Moshe Balanga is struggling to put food on the table, although it is never explained WHY he doesn't work, he comes home dejected on the eve of the holiday of Sucot only to be told by his wife that his faith is lacking and that he should pray harder. Ushpizen is a look at the guarded frum (religious) community from the inside. No compromises of nudity, sex, violence, foul language are needed to tell this sweet, fast paced, emotional story. I saw it with a mostly Jewish audience, but sat next to a non jew who enjoyed it as much as I did. For all ages, for all walks of life.... You will cry, and you will laugh, and you will cheer when it is over. I can't wait to see it again, I suggest you run to see it when it hits national release in September.
This movie was great. i am not Jewish, have no Jewish friends, and
really no great understanding of the faith. When i saw that i was
seeing a movie the director called " deeply about faith", filmed on a
totally kosher set and not allowed to be watched on the sabbath, i was
preparing my self for a trip worse than Godzilla. But i was blown away.
Shuli Rand is totally brilliant. This movie, as far as i am concerned,
could be a vehicle for him and i would have loved it. I rarely see an
actor that can let people half a world away feel the way they do about
the world. I have no idea the real implacatons of the quoth, the
holiday that the film takes place around, but i feel the importance
just in how the lead actor holds a lemon. I was totally enthralled by
this movie. The uplifting, god loving, faith inspiring aspects of film
normally slide of my back because they are bad actors with bad scripts.
This movie actually got the point of faith across better than i could
imagine. What i mean is that Moshle ( Shuli, the lead) prays, and he
revieves. Then you see why. A friend accidentally steals something he
needs. Is this gods work, or dumb luck? the director and writer never
answer, which makes for a much better ending. All i didn't like in the
movie were a few simple things like bland direction, poor sense of time
and an occasional lack of explanation.
but all and all, this is probably the best religious movie i have seen in quite some time, and i you like character acting above plot twists and effects, see this film.
For someone unfamiliar with the culture, Ushpizin may be like visiting
another planet full of strange people, unfamiliar rules, and absolutely
opposite priorities. It quickly becomes a human fable with which all of
us can connect deeply, however: the blessings and curses that come with
wishes that are granted, the confusion of figuring out how the big
picture will play out in our smallest choices, the warmth and pressure
of belonging to a wider community of similarly confused and agitated
Some of the characters border on lovable stereotypes, and the picture painted is of a world in which good is absolutely guaranteed to conquer evil, but it is nonetheless believable and suspenseful. You really should see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While the setting might be foreign to many viewers, the movie's main
message is universal. Moshe and Mali have all the external trappings of
their newly found faith. Now they are put to the ultimate test when
Moshe has to overcome his most prominent character flaw. The final
miracle is a reward for his ability to transform himself from the
inside (not just on the outside).
Rand is superb as always. I have seen him in two theatrical play and he was every bit as good as in the film. His purpose in movie-making is to bring the message of G-dliness to the viewers of all walks of life.
One of my favorites.
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