Unconventional cinematography and a powerful storyline make Menashe a must watch.
The narrative is about Menashe and his desire to raise his son, Rieven, following the untimely passing of his wife. Now to some this may seem the basis of a mundane plot but in the Hasidic Jewish community this is forbidden (kids are to be raised in a two parent household). Part of him seems to agree with the rule as these community standards are rooted in years of tradition. However, when confronted with the realization that he could be out of his son’s life forever- he’s faced with the tough choice of adhering to the rule (quickly remarry not allowing for any time to grieve), surrendering custody of his son to his brother-in law, or leaving the community that has defined most of his life.
Director Joshua Z Weinstein’s style of filmmaking allowed the audience to feel as if they were right in the heart of the story watching this drama unfold. Weinstein’s background is in documentaries, and even though this was his first ever feature, he didn’t abandon his cinematic roots. Most of the 81-minute film is shot from extremely odd angles giving the cinematography a feeling of imperfection, but that was that very thing which made the film seem too real. Life isn’t full of perfect vantage points and amazing lighting. By not getting worked up about each shot, it allowed the audience to feel as if they were eavesdropping on these private discussions. Yoni Brook and Weinstein both were crucial to the success of this release.
The structure of the narrative was unconventional as well. While most releases have more of a linear story to tell (beginning and an end), this film is more like a series of events that loosely connect to the untimely passing of Menashe’s wife.
Loved that most of the film was spoken in Yiddish (with subtitles) which just enhanced the authenticity of the narrative.
Menashe Lustig’s portrayal of the title character was quite endearing. While clearly, his life is a complete mess, there is no denying how much he loves his son. The question becomes if his love runs deep enough that he’d be willing to step up and raise him even if it means walking away from his community.
Menashe doesn’t seek to answer any questions nor does it paint the world as being full polka dots and moon beams. Weinstein’s film asks the tough question: Can religion dictate what is best for your child? What’s great is that he allows the audience to formulate their own opinion on the matter. This is one of those films that audiences should seek out and give a shot this weekend.