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
Menashe (2017) was co-written and directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein. It was filmed in the Hasidic community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The Hasidim are a subgroup within ultra-orthodox Judaism. So, all of the Hasidim are ultra- orthodox Jews, but not all ultra-orthodox Jews are Hasidim. The Hasidim are concentrated in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. There's a mix of many cultures in Williamsburg, but the Chasidim stand out because of their different dress and the fact that they speak Yiddish as their primary language. Another characteristic of the Hasidim--as shown clearly in the film--is the loyalty of each group to their own rabbi. The rabbi has the final say about major events like marriage, as well as many day-to-day practical matters.
Menashe (portrayed well by Menashe Lustig) is a basically decent guy whose life is a mess. He has a low-paying job as a stock clerk in a small Chasidic grocery store. He owes money. He is a widower, which by Hasidic custom means he can't have his son living with him unless he remarries.
He loves his son Fischel, brilliantly played by Yoel Falkowitz. Fischel is a good son, but he is beginning to recognize that Menashe fails at most of what he attempts.
In the film, Menashe is called a "schlimazel." That's a Yiddish word that describes a person who is chronically unlucky. This can often mean that the person is inept and incompetent, and that's why he's unlucky. It's a sad thing to be a schlimazel, and it's no fun being the son of a schlimazel either. The plot of the movie demonstrates those facts.
I enjoyed watching this film because it allows a glimpse into a very different culture from mainstream U.S. culture, and even from mainstream Jewish culture. It's almost an anthropological film, and yet it tells a clear, if unhappy story.
We saw this movie at the excellent Little Theatre in Rochester, NY. It has a terrible IMDb rating of 6.3. It's not a masterpiece, but it's much better than that.
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