Menashe

Out Now On-Demand

A widower struggles to appease Orthodox tradition and raise his son in this observational drama, shot in a camera-shy Hasidic Brooklyn neighbourhood.

"Menashe (Menashe Lustig), a kind, hapless grocery store clerk, struggles to make ends meet and responsibly parent his young son, Rieven, following his wife Leah's death. 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 Leah's memorial. It's his chance to prove himself a suitable man of faith and fatherhood, and restore respect among his doubters." (Sundance Film Festival)

Trailers

Directed by

Drama

82mins

Rating: PG Mild themes

Yiddish and English with English subtitles

USA, Israel

The premise for Menashe makes it seem like a typical underdog story. Set in a social pocket of modern Brooklyn, the film follows the unorthodox titular character looking to subvert the norms of his completely orthodox Jewish community. He’s a widower looking to raise his boy by himself – a total no-no in the faith’s eye. The Rabbi wants/needs him to remarry, but Menashe has no interest in the matchmaking process.

It’s easy to root for him at first, but it doesn’t take the film long to shake that support. A year without an old-fashioned housewife has turned Menashe into an untucked shirt of a man, capable (barely) of holding down a grocery store job but unable to do basic adult stuff like set an alarm clock or cook a simple meal. (The day he gets his son back from the salty brother-in-law, it’s cake and Coke for breakfast.)

Menashe wants to be a good single parent so badly, and his earnest intentions are sympathetic, but the film does a stupendously cruel job making you question if he ever could be. Perhaps he’s been pigeonholed too firmly by his religion. Perhaps he really is just that useless. The film doesn’t give straight answers, and it’s all the more thought-provoking for it. More importantly, it doesn’t put anyone under a looming shadow of shame which, for a film that observes a non-secular world, is an importantly non-judgemental touch.

Making his first foray into narrative film, documentary director Joshua Z Weinstein keeps things grounded with subdued performances and a visual style that feels typical of a seasoned documentarian. Partly based on the life of lead actor Menashe Lustig, it’s a sensible approach to take, though it’s Lustig who makes the most surprising debut. His occasional displays of warmth, determination, and pain puncture through a largely subdued performance. It comes from a real place, as does the sweet, string-filled, sorrowful score by From the Mouth of the Sun.

Hollywood Reporter

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Weinstein's charming Menashe immerses us in an authentic environment of ultra-Orthodox Judaism and makes it relatable by weaving a sweet story familiar in its general contours, of a single father struggling to hold onto the son he loves.

Screen International

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As if the Dardennes came to Brooklyn, only funnier.

Stuff.co.nz (Graeme Tuckett)

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These are the films we celebrate.

The Guardian (UK)

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Menashe is a deeply felt and absorbing Yiddish-language drama about New York Hasidic Jews.

Total Film (UK)

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Performed in Yiddish and shot in Brooklyn's Borough Park, this is a rare insight into Orthodox Jewish culture.

Empire (UK)

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Doubling as a fascinating look at a subculture that is normally sealed off from the rest of us and a gently amusing comedy of manners, this manages to say an awful lot by, paradoxically, saying it endearingly gently.

TimeOut (New York)

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The plot is a touch obvious, but Menashe still plays like a more culturally specific Kramer vs. Kramer, setting up a testy, fascinating dynamic between micromanaging rabbis and a naturally warm dad with wisdom of his own.

New York Times

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My heart broke a little near the end of "Menashe," a sweet comedy that's not without a bit of sadness. For sure, this funny and tender film prompts cheerful smiles, but sometimes they turn melancholy.

NZ Herald (Toby Woollaston)

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Menashe credits its audience with enough tenacity and intelligence to dig beneath its gentle nature and ascribe meaning to the film's subtle gestures.