The Hasidic Jewish community of New York live by a strict traditional code and most of the modern pleasures and luxuries we enjoy are forbidden, including most movies. Director Joshua Z Weinstein offers a rare glimpse into the tightest-knit circle of the melting pot with Menashe, a film that touches on a Hasidic father torn between the unrealistic standards of his sanctimonious brethren and modern life in the city.
The story focuses on a struggling widower, Menashe (Menashe Lustig), who works in a kosher grocery store and is fighting to regain custody of his son. His reputation as an irresponsible schmuck precedes him as he fights with his holier-than-thou brother-in-law over how the pre-teen should be raised.
Weinstein and co were forced to float around the closed Hasidic community and shoot surreptitiously as they were constantly being shooed away. Hence, the camera tends to romanticise the more zealous characters and traditions instead of offering an objective, detailed depiction. The audience is led to empathise more with the chastising brother-in-law than with the well-intentioned, simple protagonist.
The disconnection the community has imposed on itself is highlighted by a constant refusal to let the city backdrop influence the cinematography. The pulsing, vibrancy of NYC is muted so much it’s as if we were witnessing the characters under a microscope without yielding any profound results. Almost all the dialogue is in Yiddish, which gives the film sturdy authenticity and removes it even further from its location.
Menashe offers some moments of redeeming comic relief but revisits the same road as countless other struggling, single dad features. The young son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), is a revelation and his innocent view of the world, untainted by modern devices, provides the film with some touching moments. Menashe offers a poignant insight into the austere, moralistic society that refuses to budge into the 21st century but it doesn’t delve deep enough to truly grasp its subject matter.
Menashe does not have a UK release date yet.
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