Menashe (4 stars)

Menashe

Affectionate and gently humorous portrayal of Hasidic Judaism, a community rarely seen on screen

A go-to theme for the more mawkish end of the comedic spectrum – a father striving to parent alone after the death of his wife – here gets an illuminating, unsentimental new spin. According to the traditions of his conservative Hasidic community, widowed father Menashe must hand the care of his young son over to a relative until such time as he remarries. But what if he isn't ready? Or the right woman doesn't present herself? Or he's just disinclined to do what custom demands?

Set in Brooklyn, delivered entirely in Yiddish, and based upon the real-life experiences of its lead actor Menashe Lustig, this lightly comic character piece has an admirable sense of intimacy and realism, as well as a rare willingness to let its audience draw their own conclusions about what they're witnessing. Menashe is a disorganised, indulgent parent, but is he an incapable one? His religious community is exacting and unreconstructed, but is it oppressive? Does a child belong with its parent no matter what – or can such a principle result in neglect?

Director Joshua Z Weinstein has previously worked in documentary, and his facility for what feels like unobtrusive, unmediated observation of reality is on show here. Leading man Lustig, meanwhile, is suitably infuriating and endearing as a character whose insistence on going his own way secures him a sense of independence but also leads him into frequent scrapes.

The effort to raise a child, Menashe reminds us, is as likely to confront us with our own childishness as it is to bring out our maturity and responsibility. Perhaps the chief appeal of the film, however, is the affection and humour that Weinstein brings to his portrayal of a community usually regarded as impenetrably closed and rulebound.

Selected release from Fri 8 Dec.

Menashe

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • 1h 22min
  • U
  • Directed by: Joshua Z Weinstein
  • Cast: Menashe Lustig, Yoel Falkowitz
  • UK release: 8 December 2017

In a conservative Hasidic community in Brooklyn, widowed father Menashe (Lustig) wants to raise his own 12-year-old son (Niborski), but the rabbi rules that the boy must live with relatives until such time as Menashe is ready to remarry. Lightly comic character piece which examines its milieu with affection and humour.

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