Menashe

 

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Brooklyn's Hasidic community portrayed with affection and featuring an outstanding central 

performance.

 
Menashe

  

Jewish audiences are naturally drawn to films that depict their own lives and it is not unknown for such films to find a place hardly less strong in the hearts of non-Jewish viewers (it is all of forty-two years since London saw Joan Micklin Silver's Hester Street about a Jewish family in New York but no one who saw it will have forgotten it). Menashe, a first feature by Joshua Z. Weinstein, is not of that quality but, nevertheless, it is a welcome portrayal of life among Hasidic Jews in contemporary Brooklyn.

 

Very much the central figure here is Menashe, a widower who wants to bring up his son, Rieven, himself but finds that the boy's school looks askance on a home without two parents. In the circumstances Menashe's brother-in-law, Eizik, although often at odds with him, steps in to take Rieven into his own family but Menashe is anxious both to retain his close bond with his son and to prove his competence by holding a memorial for his late wife in his own home. 

 

Shot in Yiddish and with a cast partly anonymous because some of the faithful would disapprove of Hasidic Jews acting in a movie reflecting their lives, Menashe is a heartfelt work by a filmmaker who admires the naturalistic work of John Cassavetes and adopts a rough-and-ready style in emulation. The supporting cast is able, but the heart of this film is to be found in the actor playing the title role, Menashe Lustig. This role may be the star part but, since the character is fat and middle-aged, he is an atypical leading figure. But that fact is crucial to the film which is, first and foremost, a study of a good-hearted widower who is nevertheless inept as a father.

 

Menashe lacks any real resolution and consequently it emerges not so much as a fully-fledged story but as a day-in-the-life portrait of its main character. That is entirely acceptable, but if the film, sympathetic is it is, falls short of its potential that is because the screenplay by the director writing with Alex Lipschultz and Mura Syeed is not sharp enough. The father's failings make for comedy but we sympathise with his hopes because his love for his son is so real. What was really needed was a script that more effectively played up the comedy or the pathos or, better yet, could bring them fully into conjunction so that we would want to laugh and to cry at the same time. Without that, Menashe doesn't quite strike home and for all the good intentions one feels that something is lacking. Yet it is an appealing film and one that boasts ideal casting of the title role.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Menashe Lustig, Yuel Weisshaus, Meyer Schwartz, Ruben Niborski, Yoel Falkowitz, Ariel Vaysman.

 

Dir Joshua Z. Weinstein, Pro Yoni Brook, Traci Carlson, Daniel Finkelman, Alex Lipschultz and Joshua Z. Weinstein, Screenplay Joshua Z. Weinstein, Alex Lipschultz and Mura Syeed, Ph Yoni Brook and Joshua Z. Weinstein, Art Dir Royce Brown, Carlen May-Mann and Laura Moss, Ed Scott Cummings, Music Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist.

 

Autumn Productions/Maiden Voyage Pictures/Shtick Film/Where's Eve?-Vertigo Releasing.
82 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 8 December 2017. Cert. U.