“Eight kids praise God” says a hassled woman as she checks out her groceries through Menashe, a middle aged store clerk. It’s obvious she is finding it hard to make ends meet however finds her brood a blessing.
Menashe is also finding it hard to make ends meet. He has only one child, a son, Rieven, but his is a low paid job with shifting hours.
His self esteem and emotional welfare receive a particular battering in the wake of his wife’s death, as tradition prohibits Menashe from raising his son alone, so Rieven’s strict uncle adopts him, leaving Menashe heartbroken.
Meanwhile, though Menashe seems to bungle every challenge in his path, his rabbi grants him one special week with Rieven before his wife’s memorial and a chance to prove himself a suitable man of faith and fatherhood. Menashe wants to be a mensch but he’s a nebish, a shmuck whose life is a shambles, a putz who cant seem to put a foot right.
MENASHE is a slow burn study in a society within a society, New York Hassidic, who exist in the Big Apple like Yiddish Amish, shackled to archaic custom and tradition.
Performed mostly in Yiddish, it’s a foreign language film set in outer Brooklyn. an area completely populated by Hasidic Jews that makes you feel transported back to the ghettos of Poland. It is also a very poor municipality.
Menashe Lustig who plays the title role, is from New Square, New York and is a very devout follower of Rabbi Twersky, The Grand Rabbi of the Skvere Hasidic Movement. Menashe lived in London for seven years. After his wife passed away, he returned to New Square to work as a grocer. The film is in large part based on his true life story.
Joshua Z Weinstein directed feature documentaries before making MENASHE as his feature film debut and his work as a documentarian shows through. There is a verisimilitude on show that feels like fly on the wall observations on this ultra observant sect.
MENASHE is a tiny miracle of a film. For Weinstein, authenticity was the guiding principle for the film. “I wanted to shoot in Borough Park, on the streets, synagogues, restaurants, and apartments where the real Hasidim lives. Although capturing all these locations was extremely difficult, the film shines because you can literally smell and taste the legitimacy of the location”.
From what could have been a tiresome tragedy, MENASHE [Official Site] is manifestly hopeful. Mazel tov!