Menashe Review

Menashe (Lustig) is a thirtysomething widower in New Jork’s Hasidic community. Tradition forbids single parenthood, so he reluctantly embarks on a search for a new wife while striving to preserve his relationship with his son, who is being forced to live with strict relatives.

by Andrew Lowry |
Published on
Release Date:

08 Dec 2017

Running Time:

82 minutes



Original Title:


Brooklyn’s hasidic Jewish community is famously closed off to the outside world, so it’s a minor miracle this film exists at all. Not only is it a wonder of access — the entire cast are non-actors and all dialogue is in Yiddish — but, even more impressively, it manages to be a generous-spirited examination of how practicality can rub up against tradition and culture while never reaching for low-hanging and melodramatic narrative fruit.

It works both as a comedy, and a good-natured meditation on religion and tradition.

Authenticity is never in doubt: the story is based in part on the real experiences of leading man (and web comic) Menashe Lustig. He’s a real find: melancholy, shambling, scruffy and amiable, approachable charm personified. This highly specific character becomes, ironically, a kind of everyman: like all of us, he’s just doing his best, and his best is only occasionally good enough.

Pressured by his family and community to remarry after his wife dies so his son can come back to live with him again, Menashe hits what must be one of the most limited dating pools. He’s perfectly happy in his world, but not exactly one to toe any lines — constantly berated for his poor timekeeping, scruffy dress and his general failure to be the upstanding member of the community those around him want him to be. It’s hard not to warm to him. Lustig’s wry double-takes when his dates complain to him about rabbis allowing women to drive or his colleagues fret about selling lettuce that has not been rabbinically approved would do Buster Keaton proud, and his scenes with Ruben Niborski as his son have an unforced naturalness many actors would kill for.

The Hasidic Jews’ traditional dress may serve as a barrier on the street, and the film does indulge itself occasionally in playing on the incongruity of the suited and hatted men making their way around modern New York, but seeing the generalities of life reflected in such a particular setting amounts to a genuinely powerful insight into some of the universal themes of love, sacrifice and (gentle) self-improvement that are here handled with a charmingly light touch. It would have been easy for director Joshua Z. Weinstein to frame the strict religious rules that govern this community as some oppressive nightmare there only to be escaped from, but he’s careful to offer a matter-of-fact vision of a highly regulated life. It may look like a total ballache half the time, but there are virtues: a sense of community rare in modern American cities, and they live in the one part of Brooklyn that’s not infested with insufferable people squandering their trust funds on MFAs.

Coming from a documentary background, Weinstein doesn’t put a foot wrong: the entirely non-professional cast act out their community’s rituals and rites in a way that feels totally real, and allows a story that plays with some big themes of identity and how much we should let ours be determined by those around us while never hitting you over the head with it. Indeed, given the Hasidic community’s not-exactly active embrace of documentary filmmakers, this is likely to be the closest look we get at their world for some time. That it works both as a comedy and a good-natured meditation on religion, tradition and their persistence in the modern world is a very thick layer of icing on the top.

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.
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