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Review: Filmmaker gives ‘Menashe’ authentic feel

Film unfolds in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community and has a strong sense of realness

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Menashe” is a prime example of low-key storytelling and execution. It’s a story that feels absolutely real and never gets in the way of itself, unfolding at a natural pace that recalls real life.

Credit director Joshua Z. Weinstein, a documentary filmmaker making his first foray into narrative filmmaking. He brings that background with him here, which lends “Menashe” an authenticity that makes it feel like you’re peering in on characters’ lives as they’re really living them.

The story takes place in Brooklyn’s tightknit Hasidic community. Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is a father and widower who is preparing a memorial service for his wife while barely keeping anything in his life together: His job as a checkout clerk at the grocery store is in jeopardy, he can’t show up anywhere on time and even baking a dish proves to be a challenge.

Meanwhile, the rules of the Hasidic community dictate a child must be raised in a house with a mother. Menashe’s late wife’s brother, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus), holds this over Menashe, and truth be told, Eizik is able to provide a much more stable living situation for Menashe’s son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski). Menashe seems to know this, but is doing everything in his power to keep his son and get his life on track, even as the odds are stacked against him.

There is a sweetness and simplicity to “Menashe” — which is mostly spoken in Yiddish and uses English subtitles — that makes it endearing, while it also avoids Hollywood-style filmmaking, as if Weinstein’s documentary background won’t allow him to bend toward convention. “Menashe” is a little slice of life, delivered with a knowing sense of truth.

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Rated PG for thematic elements

Running time: 82 minutes