Joshua Z. Weinstein/USA/2017/81 mins
At Filmhouse Cinema from Fri 1 Dec 2017
With their first foreign language release, A24 have once again hit the jackpot and proved that they are distributing some of the best independent cinema of the last few years. Filmed within the Hasidic community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Menashe is the touching tale of its title character (impeccably played by Menashe Lustig), a recently widowed Yiddish man struggling to make ends meet while following the restrictions within his community.
Denied custody of his son Rieven (Ruben Niborski) by his Rabbi (Meyer Schwartz), Menashe is forced to give up Rieven to his brother-in-law, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus) until he remarries. Not wanting to be forced yet again into another arranged marriage, Menashe desperately tries to prove he can take care of Rieven by himself… but unfortunately, the well-intentioned Menashe also happens to be rather irresponsible and plagued with misfortune.
It should come as no surprise that director Joshua Z. Weinstein is known for documentaries, as the camera often stays focused solely on the characters, observing their every move and allowing the audience to be a fly on the wall into an unfamiliar world not seen by many.
The performances from Lustig and Niborski are beautifully nuanced, portraying the deep bond that they have – even though Menashe may not be cut out to be a father. The film always comes to life when they are interacting with one another. Old before his time, often in these scenes Rieven appears to be more like the adult and Menashe the child. The best scene, though, comes when Menashe speaks with two colleagues from work who come from outwith the community. Here he speaks openly for the first time, revealing the guilt he has over his marriage and how he himself is an outsider.
Made with such tender care and a hint of melancholy, Menashe is both a poignant tale of a father and son, while also being a fascinating and insightful look into a rarely seen and insular community.