Saturday, 13 January 2018


A Hasidic widower, Menashe (Menashe Lustig), is determined that his son live with him. However this goes against a ruling from his rabbi that the boy grow up in a 'proper' home (i.e. with a mother). Unwilling to remarry, Menashe is caught between love for his son and his beliefs.

A small scale character piece, Menashe is the kind of movie that I like to soak in. There is no real plot; just a locale, a mood and a deeply human anchor in its central character. Featuring a cast of Hasidic non-actors, and inspired by his leading man's real life, Joshua Z. Weinstein's film is warm, empathetic portrait of a community that is rarely portrayed onscreen. 

As the lead, Lustig is great - he is naturalistic in his interactions with his son Rieven (Ruben Niborski) and is extremely affecting during the dramatic moments. Weinstein often lets his camera stay on Lustig, letting moments play out. The film's most affecting sequence is when Menashe, post-date, eats takeaway at a convenience store while the clerk awkwardly stares at him.

Because it takes place almost entirely in Yiddish, there is a layer of distance that might be shielding some of the performances, but the movie lives and dies on Lustig's performance. There is a weariness and a sadness to Lustig's performance that never feels telegraphed or shoved in our faces.

Like Malglutit which I reviewed last year, Weinstein makes no overt attempts to explain any aspects of Hasidic culture, instead letting the audience put the pieces together. Beyond the matter-of-fact presentation of Hasidic culture, the movie's strength is its emotional through-line.  

When you take away the context, the movie is just a story about a single parent trying move on in his life and raise his son. The movie only has a hair of a plot: Menashe takes it upon himself to make the preparations for the anniversary of his wife's death - if he succeeds, the Rabbi will consider letting him keep his son; if he fails, he will go to live with his brother-in-law. 

There are no contrivances or subplots to clog up the 82 minute runtime. The only obstacles are banal and straightforward: Nosey relatives, uncaring employers and Menashe's own personal flaws. 

Leavened by touches of humour and heart, Menashe is a sweet little movie that is worth a look.

No comments:

Post a Comment