Experienced documentarian Joshua Z Weinstein’s first fiction film, “Menashe,” a universal story of profound paternal love, but set in the insular Borough Park, Brooklyn Hasidic community, fully succeeds in looking at this world with “an ethnographic, sociological lens,” and in merging the messiness of real life with fiction. Shot surreptitiously within the religious enclave depicted in the film, “Menashe” is one of a very few productions to have been performed in Yiddish in 70 years.
Inspired by the life story of the amazingly talented non-professional lead actor, Menashe Lustig, 38, the film remains true to his emotional experience. (Weinstein says , “Menashe looks so proud and yet so sad at thee same time.”) But it hews only as close to actual events as necessary.
Widowed for less than a year, sloppy Menashe, a goofy grocery store clerk, is losing custody of his young son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), a beautiful boy, to the child’s successful (and judgemental) uncle and his wife because, according to religious law, he must live in a home with a mother. It is a week before Menashe’s late wife Lea’s memorial service and his sympathetic rabbi (The Ruv), allows the boy to stay with his father in his spartan apartment for the period. Rieven and Menashe stumble into a true closeness.
And even though Menashe dramatically bungles his dinner to honor Lea after the service at the cemetery, he shows his community that he’s ready to take on the responsibilities required to raise his beloved son.
“Menashe” will open on Friday, July 28 at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema. There will be a Q&A with director Joshua Z Weinstein at Angelika after the 8:10 pm shows on Friday, and Saturday, July 29, and the director will be joined for a Q&A by star Menashe Lustig on Sunday, July 30 after the 5:00 pm show. Weinstein will be at Lincoln Plaza for a Q&A after Friday and Saturday’s 6:25 pm shows, and with Lustig on Sunday, following the 2:15 pm show.
I always enjoy working in my studio to realize the ideas an agency, art director and client have for a film poster. But shoots are rarely perfect. “Menashe” was perfect–the rapport and humor shared by everyone in the room, on both sides of the camera, and the results we all achieved. Thank you so much, Stephen Garrett and Greta Read (Jump Cut ) and Graham Retzik (and all) at A24. Looking forward to the next time.