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Menashe

A fascinating drama about one man caught between his tradition and his family
     Brooklyn’s Hasidic community is a world of its own. The orthodox laws of Judaism are followed to the letter in this Yiddish-speaking enclave. Menashe (Menashe Lustig in his feature debut) lives by the rules until the rules refuse him his son. 
      As a ­widower, he is an unfit parent. His strict brother-in-law takes in his son. Meanwhile Menashe tries to prove himself a capable single father, but in truth he may not be. 
      Menashe is a bit of a mess. At home, he’s a sloppy housekeeper who can’t cook and is always running out of money. At work, he’s late and forgetful. None of this helps sway the rabbi. The only thing Menashe seems to excel at is making his son smile. 
      Menashe’s plan is to manage a successful ceremony and dinner in his wife’s memory. As the day approaches, pressure mounts.
      Menashe is an enthralling slice-of-life film about a community rarely represented on film. Director Joshua Z. Weinstein (True New York) steps away from his documentary roots in his first fictional film, but that background serves him well. Observational camera work lends a sense of authenticity. The film feels like a story that just happened to unfold in front of Weinstein’s camera.
     The cast also adds veracity. All actors are members of the Hasidic community. The traditions and language are not performances but part of their daily life. It’s a brilliant way to dig deep into what makes them unique.     Particularly moving is Lustig, who manages to be both endearing and infuriating as a good-hearted man who shirks responsibility except in his faith. 
     Menashe also features relatable themes. Weinstein’s explorations of fatherhood, adult responsibilities and community pressure make it more than a lesson in an unfamiliar culture. 
      Funny, heartbreaking and realistic, Menashe is worth the trip to D.C. or Baltimore. You’ll have plenty to discuss on the ride home. 
Great Drama • PG • 82 mins.
 
 
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