“Menashe” is a pseudo-documentary-style drama film following a recently widowed Jewish father in the heart of Borough Park, Brooklyn. It stars Menashe Lustig, Ruben Niborski, Yoel Weisshaus and Meyer Schwartz and directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein.
A film like this is interesting for a few reasons. First, it is spoken entirely in Yiddish, a language that is not often entered into most Americans lives or in cinema. Also, it was shot guerrilla-style on the streets of New York, leading to half the interactions in the film to be genuine while half are scripted. While these interesting aspects are a glimpse into a world not commonly explored, the end result isn’t as interesting as one may hope.
For a film like this, it is more about the journey than the destination. It is a pretty simple and well-worn story about a father trying to retain custody of his adolescent son and none of the speedbumps he this along the way are things we wouldn’t expect. The son has trouble in school, the dad is struggling at his dead-end job, it’s all run-of-the-mill stuff. However in the main and titular role, Menashe Lustig does bring a sense of warmth to the film and the character, which was based in-part on his own life.
But as much as I didn’t mind watching Menashe and was hoping things would eventually work out for him, there’s this feeling of “why does this all matter?” that the film can’t escape. Some scenes seem pointless or go on for too long (and others too short), and the blend of documentary and fictional drama never truly blend together to form a cohesive narrative.
Maybe I’m just not artsy enough to appreciate a film like this as much as I should, but I just wasn’t that engaged by a lot of it. It is commendable that the filmmakers took two years to capture a world not known by many people (sometimes this feels like it takes place in an entirely different country or century than 21st century New York City) but effort can only get you so many brownie points.
“Menashe” has fleeting moments of genuine human interactions and some realistic father-son dynamics, but since we’ve seen this story a hundred times before, yet this time we cannot fully relate to the character given their lifestyle, the whole film is caught in limbo.
Critics Rating: 5/10