Chicago Critics Film Festival 2017: Menashe
How do you make a movie about a lovable slacker in Brooklyn feel new? In the case of “Menashe,” you take a radically different perspective. The title character may live in the heart of liberalism in America, but his ultra-orthodox Jewish community is nevertheless a world away. In this strict ritualistic environment, deviations from a certain standard are not tolerated, and can even have dire consequences. So Menashe's more lax approach to life creates more problems than usual. His wife died a year ago, and he shows little signs of moving on, even though his community demands that a child be raised in a home with two parents, resulting in his preteen son being placed with an uncle who has little respect for Menashe. The movie finds compassion in the way Menashe continually falls short even as he tries to do right by the son he clearly loves, and the memory of his wife, who we find he did not, struggling to keep his faith in an environment that restricts not only him, but the people around him. Filmed entirely in Yiddish and featuring actors from the Orthodox world at the focus, it's certainly an ambitious project for director Joshua Z. Weinstein's first narrative feature. His background in documentary grounds the film in the small, deeply emotional details that keep us rooting for Menashe and the simple memorial dinner for his late wife that could make or break him. There's no quick fix that solves all of his problems and allows him to live the more open life he clearly longs for, but the scant 82 minute runtime manages to pack a shocking amount of heart.