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|Index||12 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie chronicles the tribulations of Menashe, a Hasidic Jew from
present-day New York City. His wife died a year ago, so the community
has forced him to let his wife's brother raise his son. To get his son
back, he needs to marry. But his first marriage was very unhappy, and
he is not eager to rush into a second, especially since he dislikes the
women being pushed at him.
Menashe's life is miserable. The brother-in-law is openly contemptuous of the hapless Menashe. Menashe is bad at his crappy job and has an unpleasant boss.
The movie is filmed in a very low-tech, near documentary fashion. It has the downsides of many actual documentaries with poorly shot scenes and meandering scenes that undercut the story.
Still, it's a slice of an America that most of us will never meet. And Menashe is a memorable character.
Greetings again from the darkness. If the synopsis were phrased, "Based
on the real life story of a figure within a secret society", we would
likely be prepared for either a spy movie or yet another undercover
look at a cult. Instead director Joshua Z Weinstein provides a rare
glimpse into a community we outsiders rarely see: the ultra-Orthodox
Hasidic Jews of Brooklyn. He does so with a deft touch and due respect,
while bringing to light traditions that have existed for generations.
Supposedly shot in secret and featuring non-actors, the dialogue is almost entirely Yiddish (with subtitles), and the sets are mostly small apartments, back rooms, and the streets and stores of the community. There is no sound stage in sight. The story centers on Menashe, a sweaty schlub of a man. Menashe is neither matinée idol nor hero of the silver screen. He's a regular guy whose wife passed away, and who wants little more from life than to raise his son Rieven (Ruben Niborski). Unfortunately, tradition calls for every child to be raised in a home with a mother, so Menashe's former brother-in-law Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus) has taken on the parenting role.
As the memorial for the one year anniversary of his wife's death approaches, we initially believe Menashe's actions may be related to his mourning. But we soon discover, he didn't really have things together when she was alive either, and his borderline incompetence at work, and failings as a father, simply define who he is. Menashe Lustwig plays the lead in the movie based on his life events, and his approach leaves us wondering if we are witnessing his worst days or merely his every day.
Menashe is hard-headed, but not ambitious. He is anxious to show his Rabbi The Ruv (Meyer Schwartz) that he is independent enough to organize the memorial and raise his son. The Rabbi is understanding and reminds him The Torah states what makes a good life: a nice wife, a nice house, and nice dishes. Menashe falls short on all three, and his actions on dates set by The Matchmaker prove that he has little interest in a new wife, despite that being one of the conditions to his regaining his son.
The tight camera shots throughout play up the closeness of the community and the claustrophobic feel of Menashe's life. The writers Alex Lipschultz, Musa Syeed, and Joshua Z Weinstein (director) detail the traditions that seem foreign to us in a way that evokes authenticity and realism, rather than compromise for a wide audience. There is an odd intensity to the film, and it's more naturalistic than sentimental. The violin pieces written by Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist complement the perspective that even in a close-knit community, every one of us goes through "stuff" in life that deserves a touch of empathy and understanding. Is it a happy ending? It's certainly not a Hollywood ending, but it does stay true to the vaguely hopeful tone.
Struggle is something that is universal. Adversity doesn't care who you
are, where you have come from, or even who you know. Granted, it can be
relative, but no matter who you are, road blocks are still road blocks.
Documentarian and first-time narrative director Joshua Z. Weinstein
takes this theme but looks at it from a different direction with
"Menashe," featured at this year's Dallas International Film Festival
and now getting a wider release.
The title character is played by Menashe Lustig and is a widower who is just trying to get by in his ultra-orthodox Jewish community. He is still mourning the loss of his wife a year later while constantly chasing his bills working at a local Jewish market, and he is also dealing with the fact that he does not have custody of his son, Rieven (Ruben Nidorski) due to his religious beliefs that children must be raised in a two-parent household. Until he remarries, Rieven has to live with his brother, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus), and his family. Menashe has always been seen as the lesser of his siblings, so he embarks on a journey of self-discovery and responsibility just to try for a normal life.
Weinstein takes his documentary-style of filming (with no score and a lot of steady-cam shots) and applies it here, which gives it an intimate feel that really enhanced my emotional investment into his story (which he also co-wrote with Alex Lipschultz). In my comments to our vendor after the screening, I used the phrase "both heartbreaking and heartwarming," and this is the best way I can describe "Menashe". Lustig plays the lead character in a way that even though his struggles are specific to a demographic, there are themes of independence, responsibility, and family that each and every one of us can identify with and feel for him during. His work with Nidorski is very organic, and it works on every level. Almost the entire film is translated from Yiddish, but as real and powerful as this story is, the subtitling bothered me even less than it normally does.
It is true that this film may not be seen as "for everyone" due to the community that it takes place in, but I fully and whole-heartedly disagree. Its universal themes are presented in a way that its context is well-explained so that the audience can see why the traditions are what they are. Much like "Donovan" earlier this year, "Menashe" is an independent film that tells its story in an honest and grounded way that deserves to be seen by as large of an audience as possible.
This quiet drama portrays the scuffling life of a man within the
Hasidic community in Brooklyn as he endeavors to regain custody of his
son in the aftermath of his wife's passing. He is expected to find a
new wife and achieve stability as he holds down a low-paying,
labor-intensive job as a grocery clerk that drains him of his time and
his spirit. He has difficulty keeping his own modest life in order, let
alone being strong enough to provide for another human being.
His efforts to better himself in order to regain custody of his son are met with dismissal from those around him, including his more devout and financially stable brother-in-law whom the community has decided should look after the man's son. He gets little encouragement from those within his community, yet he persists.
There is a considerable schism within the Hasidic community that comes to light in this film, especially on account of the man's less-than-pious lifestyle and more secular demeanor. He doesn't readily embrace the hard-line teachings of his sect as forcefully as his peers, but he nevertheless wants what's best for his son and wants to fulfill the requirements of his denomination in order to remain a real father. In that regard, this is an exceptional portrayal of loyalty to one's religious faith in the face of ongoing personal conflict. It's definitely not for many viewers who wouldn't relate to religious doctrine as a deciding force in one's life, but it's still a story that's effectively conveyed and devoid of proselytizing. Recommended to open-minded viewers.
Menashe is an authentic, emotional masterpiece telling the story of a
kind, hapless, Hasidic grocery store clerk who battles to keep his
family together after his wife dies. Directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein
and starring Menashe Lustig, the film was shot clandestinely because of
the beliefs of the Orthodox Jewish sect. I love this film because it
took willpower to make. You can't say that about many films nowadays.
Menashe is about a kindhearted, but miserable grocery store employee that must remarry in order to care for his only son. It is against the Hasidic beliefs that a child be taken care of without a mother in the home. While Menashe ponders his situation, his well-off brother-in-law is given custody of Rieven by their Rabbi. Menashe is frustrated by this and is only able to get back custody of his son for a week, while he looks for a new wife. It doesn't seem that he really wants to get remarried, because when he goes on one date he isn't particularly friendly.
Unlike the rest of his family and friends, Menashe is more at ease with the secular society surrounding them in Brooklyn. He dresses more casually, without the requisite black hat and coat. While he takes his religion seriously, he wants to embrace life and freedom, more than the sect allows. My favorite part of this film is when Menashe drinks malt liquor with the Hispanic employees after his late night shift. They talk about life and try to get Menashe back on track.
One of the attributes of this film is the way it educates you about the culture of ultra Orthodox Judaism. The other very impressive fact is that it is the first film in 70 years to be filmed in Yiddish. Most of the film is subtitled for those who don't speak Yiddish. Both Menashe Lustig and young Ruben Niborski convey the closeness they have between father and son. One downside of the film is that it is low budget, which is reflected in its grainy resolution. Some of that could also be due to the fact that it was shot in secret.
I give this film 4 out of 5 stars for its authenticity and emotional punch. I recommend it for ages 13 through 18. The film is in limited release throughout the country at art house cinemas.
Reviewed by Clayton P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic.
The Hasidic tradition that a child must be raised in a household where
there is both a mother and a father is one of the cultural issues
brought to the fore in Joshua Weinstein's bittersweet film Menashe.
Co-written by Alex Lipschutz and Musa Syeed ("A Stray") and set in the
Hasidic community in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn using all
non-professional actors, Menashe is an engaging character study that
provides rare insight into a society largely hidden from the outside
world and a father's endearing love for his son and the challenges he
faces strike a universal chord.
Spoken almost entirely in Yiddish, Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is a widower who wants to live his own life and raise his young son Rieven (Ruben Niborski) by himself. Unfortunately, the ultra-Orthodox community of which he is a part does not see it that way. In his opposition to Hasidic cultural norms, he risks his son's expulsion from school and jeopardizes his status in the community. Menashe wants to do right by his son, but the Talmud says that a man needs three things: a nice wife, a house and dishes (presumably no paper plates). Without a wife Menashe has to allow Rieven's gruff and super critical uncle Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus) to raise the boy. The burly, sloppy-looking Menashe fancies himself as a rebel, refusing to wear a hat and jacket required by Hasidic custom, but he is a rebel without a cause.
Weinstein, however, does not stand in judgment of his main character and tells his story in a straightforward, if not entirely sympathetic manner, but it is a hard sell. Menashe's job stocking shelves at a local market is barely enough to make a living and his ineptness draws the ire of his boss when one thousand dollars worth of gefilte fish falls out of the van he is driving. In addition, the small unkempt one-room apartment is a dubious environment to raise a child. Menashe feeds his son junk food and sodas for breakfast, but the boy, though critical of the way he treated his mother, still loves him.
The stakes are high but Menashe refuses to remarry, telling friends that his previous arranged marriage with an Israeli woman was filled with constant conflict and unhappiness and tells a beggar to avoid marriage because "it's better for your health." He goes on a date with a widowed mother with children who is not reticent about telling him what a fine husband he would make. When Menashe shows his reluctance to enter into a marriage of convenience, however, she condemns Hasidic men, saying that "First your mothers spoil you, then your wives." Menashe appeals to the rabbi (Meyer Schwartz) but he is unyielding. Eventually he takes pity and offers a compromise: Rieven can stay with Menashe for one month, but if he hasn't remarried after the anniversary of his mother's death, the boy must return to Eizik.
Desperate to prove himself to be a worthy father, Menashe asks the rabbi if he can host a memorial for his deceased wife in his small apartment. Reluctantly all agree that "even a bear can learn to dance." Menashe raises complex issues about the conflict between social acceptance, religious dogma, and human needs and desires. Unfortunately, the film's running time of eighty-two minutes seems inadequate to explore the complex issues the film raises. Weinstein, however, does not want to go there. He said, "I was interested more in the non-plot elements than the plot of the film. It was about the texture, the anecdotes, faces, moments." These poignant faces and moments are what we cannot forget.
"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
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.
The price tag on fatherhood soars when tradition knocks on your door.
Orthodoxy antagonizes the downtrodden, and fortune is monopolized by
the most religious adherents. Yiddish mumbles separate father from son.
Songs of lament ring through thin apartment walls. The rambunctious
laughter of Menashe's child is limited to sidewalk engagements.
Employee of the month every month, Menashe is invaluable to his dictatorial boss at the borough's cultural specific grocery front. This distinction is not established by Menashe's work ethic, but rather by his attention to detail. With Hispanic co-workers, his Hasidic sensibilities garner favor with his Jewish supervisor. Menashe truly desires the best for the customers, and even if the man in charge cannot accommodate, the sentiment is appreciated with stern denials.
Approaching a year since the most bitter sweet loss of his self- contained life, Menashe is finally heeding his Rabbi's instructions, albeit halfheartedly. He submits to uncomfortable appointments in hopes of restoring a household. He is attempting to regain one person, by courting another.
His book speaks of man's inadequacy void of a woman. The Torah crafts a tale of interdependence, and his leadership point at passages to bolster his grief. The community cares for his son above him, and he cares for his son above all else. The walls of domesticity have tumbled, and he is the remaining survivor in Jericho.
A man cannot be expected to run a home and a livelihood, Menashe is reminded by his financially obese brother-in-law. The division in duties is divinely appointed, and Menashe's spiritual juggling can be blamed for his misfortune. His orthodoxy begins to slip. His coat and hat creep out of his closet, and he studies haphazardly.
What Menashe lacks in observance, he corrects with compassion. He is zealous but in an unconventional manner. He mimics his creator when he horses around with his only child. The abandon and whimsy of Menashe infects the boy, and together they create a fuller home than any other formal nuclear family. The uncompromising devotion to one's offspring might just rewrite thousands of years of tradition.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This yiddish-language film is so compelling as an ethnological study of
the Brooklyn Hasidic orthodox Jewish community that we might overlook
its universal theme. As Renoir put it in Rules of the Game, The
terrible thing is that everyone has his reasons.
The loser hero Menashe (that's three syllables) wants to raise his young son Reuven whom he loves and enjoys being with. But the ruling rabbi cites the Torah injunction that a child must be raised by a couple. Menashe must marry if he wants his son back.
But Menashe has already suffered through one loveless arranged marriage so doesn't want another. On the other hand, he respects his dead wife enough to keep a movie of her on his cellphone. He insists on hosting her memorial service in his cramped flat instead of at her brother's commodious home. That ceremony will prove he can be responsible except it doesn't. He burns the kugel.
If the rabbi seems unfeeling when he rules against Menashe as a father, he has the saving excuse of total commitment to his faith. He brings a kind of order and stability to his people. He shows a saving grace when he insists Menashe's kugel is not a failure, indeed "fit for a king." The rabbi has his reasons. If the religious extremity seems inhumane the rabbi isn't.
So has the brother-in-law, who resents Menashe's callous treatment of his sick wife but is committed to giving nephew Reuven a life the boy's father can't. He'll give the boy back when he can.
The film focuses on the Hasidic male community. The men are seen praying, schmoozing, singing, dancing, drinking, everything together, no women present.
The female fringe is their suffering largely invisible support: the mother on her third grocery trip that week to feed her eight children, the four-month widow on a date with the 12- month widower who insults her by saying she's not his "type." Another prospect is a beauty freshly divorced from her abusive husband. An unseen daughter wants to go to college but her father won't let her.
When Menashe asks a neighbour for a kugel recipe she immediately offers to bake him one. The women's reflex is to serve the men. That's their place, their stability. In her kitchen, sullenly kneading the dough for the sabbath bread is another woman, beaten down, defeated.
Quietly, the film traces Menashe's reform. He's criticized for not wearing a jacket and hat, for dressing like the grocery cashier he is. But his last appearance is in full suit and hat, striding through the Brooklyn streets. To recover his son he will accept the religious stricture, accept an arranged marriage, rein in his secular impulses and accept the regimen of his community.
To the film's credit this reform is only thus suggested. No specific explanation is given. Perhaps it was his failure to deliver even the supermarket kugel successfully, or the warmth of the rabbi's support, or the realization that he had no alternative if he wanted his son back. Or it was the death of the baby chicken he was trying to raise on his own, for Reuven's diversion and affection.
But another scene is equally apposite. Menashe and two Latino coworkers get drunk and candid in the storeroom. The two Latinos sing their songs. They bemoan their wives and envy his bachelor freedom. That prompts him to recall the misery of his first marriage, his initial relief at her death. Then he reflects on his even greater misery now and perhaps at this point resolves upon his reform.
So he laughs away their suggestion they go get drunk together Friday night. That's his people's shabbes. So he takes the ritual bath and, purified of worldly contamination and self- interest, returns to the fold. A man as well as the women can abandon fulfilment for their restrictive faith.
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