Menashe is a story about individualism. Set in Borough Park, Brooklyn Menashe is the first film made in 70 years to be spoken almost entirely in Yiddish.
The film is shot in documentary-style by director Joshua Weinstein and takes inspiration from the life of the movie’s lead actor, Menashe Lustig.
Menashe is set in the enclave of North America’s largest Hasidic Jewish community and focuses on a widower father nearly a year after losing his wife and the mother of his nine-year-old son, Rieven.
To regain custody of his only child, Menashe must take the necessary steps required in tradition to make himself and his home whole again.
A grocery store clerk with a penchant for being tardy, Menashe struggles with conforming to the emptiness that comes with another potential loveless marriage of convenience against the fulfillment reaped with being a father in his son’s life.
Disregarded as a schlimazel by his community who despite his good heart can’t seem to get his act together, Menashe’s prohibition from raising his son alone eats away at the humble man. Instead, Reiven is to stay with his strict uncle who publically looks down on his brother-in-law’s ineptitude as a provider for both his nephew and deceased sister.
The bumbling bachelor decides to take Rieven back without the consent of the Rabbi and is anguished when his boy uses his cell phone to call his uncle.
Deciding to hold the one year memorial of his wife’s death in his humble apartment where his son should be living with him, Menashe defies his brother-in-law Eizik’s pleas to host the event at his own more suitable and spacious household. Menashe clumsily attempts to prove to his community that he a self-sufficient man capable of rearing his only child and finding love organically.
Menashe is a story about a father having to make a difficult choice for his son that would cause himself pain. Weinstein shot much of the film full of untrained actors from as far as four blocks away, utilising an unconventional style that saw director effectively capture the widely unexposed ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jew community.
In addition to slowly gaining access to the Hasidic community, the production of the film spawned several arguments, as well as a number of contingencies all, tasked with ensuring that the Yiddish improvised and written into the movie was accurate in the subtitles.
Weinstein found the story he was searching for when he happened across Lustig, a Hasidic Jewish actor active in the ultra-orthodox theatre community.
The compelling mostly true story is a heartfelt tug at the emotional coattail of anyone who has made a selfless decision to better the life of a loved one. Director, Weinstein does a commendable job capturing the raw emotion of his subjects in a tale that was untellable just five years. Menashe Lustig has been receiving critical acclaim for his portrayal of the title character since the film’s release at Sundance Film Festival. The ultra-orthodox Jewish man who has already put his religion into question has found that his newfound stardom further alienates him from his community, a reaction that could cause future films based on the hugely conservative belief system to go back into hibernation.