Not sure whether I’ll stick to this film reviewing “business” now that my “career” as a film programmer seems to be over, but I am roused to recommend a new film with a near-family connection. It may even be appearing at a theater near you, as it bids fair to fulfill Rolling Stone Magazine’s forecast: “It has left-field sleeper hit written all over it.”
This is how far out of left field Menashe (MC-82,
NFX) comes: an American independent
film almost entirely in Yiddish, made by a director and writers who do not speak
the language, with non-actors from a Brooklyn Hasidic community, most of whom
had never set foot in a movie theater till the premiere of the movie they were
appearing in. Degree of difficulty,
high; execution, highly accomplished.
Menashe Lustig plays the title character, in a story that leaps off from his actual life predicament – as a widower who was prohibited by his strict Orthodox community from having custody of his 10-year-old son until he remarried – into a carefully-scripted 82 minutes of real humor and heart. Poor Menashe is appealing mix of schlemiel and schlimazel, redeemed from his conspicuous flaws by his evident love for his son, played with equal appeal by Ruben Niborski.
The film is directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein, and written by him in collaboration with producer Alex Lipschultz, with additional credit to Musa Syeed. Alex is my connection to the film, as the longtime companion of my daughter Rachel. (Here’s a nice profile of Alex, which appeared in his hometown
So I’m not an objective observer in this case (if ever I am) and will refer you to the “Universal acclaim” indexed by Metacritic, and point particularly to the Boston Globe’s judgment that Menashe is a “funny, heartbreaking, impeccably observed, and nearly flawless drama.” And I find IndieWire apt and amusing in describing it as “what might happen if the Dardenne brothers remade Bicycle Thieves with a screenplay by Isaac Bashevis Singer” – nice company to be in. Documentary-inflected Neorealism lives!
Menashe debuted at Sundance – where it was picked up by A24 (distributor of Moonlight and other high-quality indies). Thereafter it fared well on the international film festival circuit –
Edinburgh, Berlin , Karlovy
Vary , Jerusalem ,
etc. – and had its Shanghai theatrical release on July 28 in NYC and LA,
expanding through the month of August from 3 to 86 screens. U.S.
Back in March, it appeared in the “New Directors, New Films” series at
, and there was an after-film Q & A with director,
producer, and star, which was among the most engaging post-film discussions
that I’ve ever seen. Should be an extra
on the Lincoln Center DVD when it comes out, but see it now on YouTube.
But above all, see Menashe when you get the chance.