Starring Menashe Lustig, Yoel Falkowitz, Ruben Niborski, Meyer Schwartz
It’s easy to see what writer, director, and cinematographer Joshua Z Weinstein was attempting here. Weinstein is neither a member of the Haredi community nor does he speak the Yiddish language. Yes, the film is in subtitles. Menashe (me-na-sha) takes the structure of a film you have seen before, where a single father can’t get his act together to function the way society expects. “Besides marriage and kids, what else is there,” one character says. This statement applies both to the film and the way Weinstein portrays the Haredi people. Needless to say, not a happy bunch. Menashe highlights a radical religious- sub-society that is often ignored on the big screen.
Following the passing of his wife, Menashe (Lustig) struggles to keep his elementary son in their home. The Torah, in which ultra-orthodox Jews adhere to strictly, says a young child cannot live at home with a widowed father until he is re-married. Menashe begins prearranged dating with other widows, but finds this a waste of time. His son is forced to live with the brother-in-law, a strict environment that prohibits father and son time. Menashe’s only means of work is a clerk job at a small Jewish grocer within the Brooklyn community. The single father must prove to family, son and his religious leaders that he is able to take control of the situation without violating their faith.
There isn’t anything emotional or beautiful about this story.
One of the year’s shortest feature length films (less than 90 min) still plays out in what feels like slow motion. One scene of father and son hanging a new painting in their home lasts five minutes. The script doesn’t provide non-Jewish viewers with information on terms like “Ruv” or “Gabbi”. Nor is there a sense of urgency or depth to the narrative for the audience to seek clarification. Menashe Lustig, our leading character, has no previous film experience, much like the rest of the cast. Menashe becomes more like a film of observation, similar to Weinstein’s documentaries, than immersive cinema.
There isn’t anything emotional or beautiful about this story. It doesn’t leave the viewer with anything they didn’t bring inside the theater and both poster and trailer have very little appeal to anyone outside the specific interest group. Worse is how dull and one sided the characters are presented. Menashe is a slob, the irony of him instructing his son, ‘keeping clean on the outside, keeps you clean on the inside’, isn’t lost on his appearance. The entire arc of the story explores Menashe’s choice to resist conformity or embrace it. Whatever Weinstein’s goal was here with this project fails to engage the audience in a broad sense.
A slow moving, un-eventful, bland film that never engages the audience.