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‘Menashe’ review: Tender look at Hasidic father and son

"Menashe," set and filmed in Brooklyn, explores a Hasidic father's fight for custody of his son. Credit: Wehkamp Photography

PLOT In Borough Park, Brooklyn, a Hasidic Jew is prevented by religious law from gaining custody of his son.

CAST Menashe Lustig, Ruben Niborski, Yoel Weisshaus

RATED PG (adult themes)


PLAYING AT Manhasset Cinemas, Malverne Cinema 4

BOTTOM LINE A moving drama about fatherly love and difficult choices within a little-known community. (In Yiddish, with English subtitles)

Midway through “Menashe,” Joshua Z. Weinstein’s drama about rebellion and redemption within Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community, a matchmaking date begins to go badly. Our hero, a widower named Menashe, must remarry before religious law will allow him to live with his young son. But Menashe isn’t ready, and he doesn’t see the need to rush. The woman across the table can barely understand what he’s talking about.

“Besides marriage and kids,” she says, “what else is there?”

That question echoes through the rest of this thoughtful, beautiful film, which is based on the real-life situation of its star, Menashe Lustig. Filmed in secret almost entirely in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and using mostly Hasidic actors, “Menashe” invites us into a highly insular and little-known world that, compared with much of secular America, may seem limited and limiting. With its straightforward approach — Weinstein, who also co-wrote the screenplay, has a documentary background — “Menashe” asks us to make this neighborhood our home and to walk in the shoes of a man we might otherwise never get to know.

Lustig, a natural-born actor (he’s surely one of the few Hasids who make comedic YouTube videos), proves irresistible as a thinly disguised version of himself. Living alone in a dingy apartment, Menashe is an endearing bumbler who brightens up during visits with his son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski, a young Israeli actor), who stays with a snippy relative, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus). Rieven can’t quite tell whether his dad — a bit of a drinker who walks around in unseemly shirtsleeves rather than traditional garb — is an independent thinker or just a slob. One thing is clear in their tender scenes together: This father loves his son and would do just about anything to get him back.

Because this movie takes place in a world within a world, it’s easy for us to root for Menashe to escape. The film has a different view of things. Much of its power comes in its final few seconds, when Menashe’s heartbreaking and courageous decision becomes clear.

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