Menashe, written and directed by Joshua Z Weinstein
8 out of 10
This film seems to be from another world, with a main character that appears as unearthly as an alien in quite a few ways, with his long curls near the ears, the dress that has some traditional ropes hanging, the eternal large or top hat, replaced by the kippah at times.
Yet, he is a member of a community, ultra- orthodox Jews that live in Brooklyn, New York, apart from the other communities and at the same time integrated to large extent, in spite of their very strict rules and the requirements that their religion has of them.
The under signed has had the chance to work with Israelis for many years, some of them ultra conservatives, people who have had a lot of difficulties to even eat in these parts of the world, according to their rules, which would not allow cooking in recipients that have been used for non-kosher food, would not mix cheese with meat, the meat cannot be pork and any number of other forbidden animals…
The list of rules, restrictions, forbidden things, acts – working, or even using elevators, cars, engines on a Sabbath – is long.
Indeed, in Menashe, they discuss about working on the Sabbath, and a number of specific rules, from the salad that is sold to customers, whether it should be washed before being displayed, if it makes financial sense, where to have a ceremony for the deceased, the traditional food, if it was done right, smells or not of potatoes.
An excellent actor called…Menashe Lustig portrays Menashe, he is a widower that explains his ordeal somewhere near the middle of the film, talking to some Latino coworkers that invite him to one of their parties.
They talk about women, the fact that he is lucky to be single and do whatever he wants, for the married man says that his wife keeps texting to see where he is and what he does.
This is when Menashe opens up – we have seen already that he is sad, maybe near depression, he does not seem able to cope with his life, solitude, the missing child, the work requirements, anything really.
The hero has travelled to Israel, where his father has made him marry someone who had been arranged for him, then the couple argued, did not get along, they have had a son, Rieven, but the wife wanted more – which is the tradition among the ultra-orthodox Jews and other extremely religious people.
She followed some treatment of fertilization – which is interesting, for the conservative types do not favor such methods – which her husband feels that have caused a serious infection, which led to her death.
For one year now, Menashe has been trying to get his son to live with him, but he faces stiff opposition, from the rabbi, his brother in law, who raises the nine year old Riven, until Menashe will have done the proper, traditional, required by the Hasidic ritual of marrying again.
The hero has tried to find another woman, he has contacted a matchmaker, but his interviews, meetings with available women are disappointing, somewhat amusing in fact, given that mention of wasting time can be embarrassing, but also mirthful, especially when the protagonist appears to be going through the motions without interest, just because he wants his son back.
Rieven likes his father, although there are moments when the fatigue, the demanding, low paid job, the disorder, loneliness, unfulfillment in his life get the better of the parent who drinks too much in a few instances, one of which makes his son call the uncle to come and take him.
Menashe is often, if not always late, has trouble fulfilling his obligations, once he drives the delivery van with open doors and merchandise falls on the ground, resulting in a claim from his boss that the damage is worth one thousand dollars and consequently, a loan may be unavailable.
The hero has had to borrow money from Eizik, his brother in law, who is not just unsympathetic, but outright hostile and against the idea of giving custody back, reproaching the misuse of funds, when the poor protagonist is already in debt, how can he afford other expenses, such as buying Rieven new clothes…
Menashe seems unable to raise even a little chick, which he has in his small place, trying to cheer his son, placing it on his kippah and keeping it in a box, up to the point where he finds it dead one morning.
In the face of opposition, with meagre financial means, the help from a friendly woman neighbor, the hero insists on having a ceremony of remembrance for his late spouse in his flat, in spite of the plans of her brother, Eizik, who thinks his brother in law is not capable of arranging the ritual or anything.
The rabbi, Eizik, Rieven, Menashe and a few other men – women are probably not allowed for this ceremony – walk at the cemetery and then to the hero’s flat for the traditional food, when they see that the place is in fumes.
The unexperienced man has left the buzek or whatever the special dish is called in and left for the grave, to the extreme worry of his neighbor, making Eizik call for a change of venue, given the pervasive, omnipresent smoke.
Nevertheless, the rabbi agrees to stay and furthermore, rejects the claims that the food is not good, drinks lahaims with the widower and the few guests…
There is hope for Menashe after all…