Menashe is a beautiful and thoughtful film that examines the cloistered ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. The title character, the widower Menashe is played by non-professional actor, Menashe Lustig, who shines with compassion and tenderness in this tale of fighting for your own beliefs within a world so heavily dictated by the rules of your faith.
Menashe’s son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski) has been taken away following the death of his wife. The rabbi has decreed that the child must live in a two parent household where the wife looks after home and children. Until such a time that Menashe marries again, Rieven must live with his more successful uncle. But Menashe isn’t in any rush to re-marry and despite meetings organised via a matchmaker, he doesn’t feel compelled to another woman – all he really wants is his son home with him.
The director, Joshua Z Weinstein has done a fine job in representing this community where everyone knows the business of their families, colleagues and friends. For Menashe he is caught between following his rabbi and the teachings and what his heart really yearns for.
This is a tense picture and for everything Menashe tries to do right, there are always barriers up against him – from his boss at the grocery store who seems inherently angry at everything he does, to his snooty brother in law who looks down on Menashe’s frantic lifestyle. So this film (a tight 80 or so mins in total) is a journey, a patient one, watching this man move emotionally towards understanding and ultimately, hopefully one day fulfilment as he knows what he must do.
Like Rama Burshtein’s Fill The Void or Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz’s Gett, Menashe is a fascinating insight into a little explored world, looking to balance faith and emotion and asks the quesion about whether there is room for both in a life.