Set within Brooklyn’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community, Joshua Z Weinstein’s Menashe is not only groundbreaking in its nature, but it also manages to tell a deeply affecting story with a huge amount of restraint, tenderness and respect for the community it depicts. Performed almost entirely in Yiddish, the film follows the story of a young widower’s struggle to come to terms with his failures, and explores the relationship between faith and parenthood in a deeply observant Hasidic community.
Since the death of his wife, hapless grocery store clerk Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is finding it hard to fulfill his duties as a father to a boy he never sees through no fault of his own. Forever berated and criticised by his religious elders and family members alike, all Menashe wants is to be given a chance to prove that he is able to take care of his son Rieven (Ruben Niborski) without the help of boy’s deeply religious interfering uncle who seems hellbent on raising the child as his own.
As he prepares to hold a memorial for his wife Leah, Menashe is granted one special week with Rieven by the rabbi, a week in which he must prove that he is able to take his parental responsibilities seriously. However, when things don’t quite turn out how he would have hoped, Menashe finds himself dejected and let down by those who purport to only have his own interest at heart.
Written by Alex Lipschultz and Musa Syeed with the help of director Joshua Z Weinstein, the film is rightly careful not to rely on stereotypes and preconceived notions about faith, concentrating instead on the story at hand. While filming in a deeply observant community could not have been the easiest task, Menashe still manages to tell a universal story which could have taken place anywhere in the world and featured any other community. With themes relating to everyday life, the film manages to stand on its own two feet on the strength of its genuinely touching story alone.
Newcomer Menashe Lustig, himself a Hasidic Jew, relies heavily on his own experiences in his community and personal tragedy to offer a genuinely impressive, restrained and deeply touching performance.
With its meticulous attention to detail and slow melancholic tone, the film succeeds in making its audiences care deeply about the well-being of its central characters. Menashe not only offers a fascinating look at a community most people would have been less than familiar with, but it also manages to avoid exploiting the very people it depicts. In a world ruled by tradition and sometimes blind-faith, Menashe provides an alternative view to anyone looking in from the outside, which is testament not only to its makers’ hard work and dedication to the project, but also to its brave cast members for daring to take a step into uncharted territories. A wonderfully acted and beautifully crafted production which deserves every accolade it is likely to get.