Within Brooklyn's ultra-orthodox Jewish community, a widower battles for custody of his son. A tender drama performed entirely in Yiddish, the film intimately explores the nature of faith and the price of parenthood.
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Menashe, a widower, lives and works within the Hasidic community of Borough Park, Brooklyn. Since his wife passed away a year before, he has been trying hard to regain custody of his nine-year-old son, Rieven. But the rabbi (and all the community behind him) will not hear of it unless he re-marries, which Menashe does not want, his first marriage having been very unhappy. Father and son get on well together, but can Menashe take care of Rieven properly? Not really for all his goodwill as he holds down a low-paid job as a grocery clerk that consumes too much of his efforts and energy. Always late, always in a hurry, he endeavors to improve himself though. But will his efforts be enough to convince the rabbi that he can be a good father without a wife at home? Written by
Providing a glimpse of the daily life within the Hasidic Jewish community
"Menashe" (2017 release; 82 min.) brings the story of a widower named Menashe and his 10 yr. old son Rieven. As the movie opens, it is clear we are in the Hasidic Jewish community in New York, as we see Menashe get to work in a grocery-type store. After work, he joins others in a testy discussion as to what the "real" rules of the Hasidic Jewish community are. It's not long, though, before we learn that Menashe has a son, but, per the Hasidic Jewish rules, he cannot live with Menashe and instead is being raised by the boy's uncle (the brother of Menashe's deceased wife) and his family. Menashe is desperate to see his boy more often, and to get him to return home... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this movie is not the first one about life in the Hasidic Jewish (or Orthodox Jewish) community, yet it is striking once again for someone like myself (a con-Jewish outsider) how incredibly restrictive life is within the confines of that community. The rabbi decides everything. When Menashe appeals to the Rabbi to let his son live with him, the Rabbi responds: "the Torah requires three things: a nice wife, a nice house, and nice dishes", without the slightest of hesitation or irony, wow... The movie reminds of a couple of other movies: "Gett" (the movie about divorce in the Orthodox Jewish community), and... "Kramer vs. Kramer", yes the 1979 classic, where Dustin Hoffman raises his 6 year old boy. Several scenes from "Menashe" are eerily similar. Beware: for whatever reason, the production team of "Menashe" decided to film many scenes in an extreme close-up angle, which at time is quite disorienting (perhaps that was the very intent of it).
"Menashe" premiered at this year's Sundance film festival to immediate critical acclaim, and recently opened at my local-art house theater here in Cincinnati. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was heavily attended. somewhat to my surprise, but this is welcome news. Indeed, if you are in the mood to get a glimpse of what life in the Hasidic Jewish community is really like (almost documentary-like), you will be well-served with this movie, and I'd readily recommend you seek this out, be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
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