“Filmed on the sly, Menashe is a fascinating, poignant and rare glimpse into the world of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, starring members of the Hasidic community.
Menashe is thoroughly absorbing and offers a fresh and probing look at a cloistered community living in plain sight on busy New York streets. The story centers on Menashe (Menashe Lustig) a widower trying to win back the custody of his tween son Rieven (Ruben Niborski). The boy was not taken away by the courts, but by rabbinical dictate. Because Menashe’s wife died, the religious leader deemed it appropriate for Rieven to live with his aunt and uncle. If Rieven does not live in a two-parent family, he will be expelled from his yeshiva, the Hasidic school he attends.
But Menashe is heartsick being without his son. He labors at a dead-end job at a local market with an overbearing boss and goes home to a drab and tiny apartment. His judgmental brother-in-law Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus) takes in Riesen to live with his wife and children. He is substantially more successful financially than Menashe and lords it over him. ‘My son is my only consolation,’ Menashe explains simply, entreating his brother-in-law to let him raise his own son.
Complicating matters, poor Menashe messes up a lot, whether on the job, when making kugel or in caring for a pet. His son loves him, but Menashe is regarded by most who know him as a rather bumbling schlemiel.
To add insult to injury, Menashe feels dismissed and diminished simply for being a single man.
If he re-marries, the rabbi dictates, then his son can return to live with him. But the boy cannot live alone with his blue-collar, hardworking dad. Menashe doesn’t want to marry merely for the sake of propriety. But he desperately wants to be more than a part-time dad.
The film winds up compelling both from a cultural and sociological angle and as a universal story of a parent yearning to be with his son. Menashe, the film and the character, share a sweet spirit. And while the arcane world that it re-creates is one that will be unfamiliar to most viewers, the sentiments within it are highly recognizable.
Menashe is a warm, relatable and tender tale about parental love, religion and belonging, told humanely and with vivid authenticity.” (Claudia Puig, The Wrap)
“Here is a film dedicated to recognizing our most common obstacles, its quiet storytelling largely accompanied by those feelings at the bottom of anyone’s gut: guilt, shame, defeat. Menashe is a gorgeous ode to everyone’s inner screw-up.” (Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com)
“Menashe works as both a rare introduction to a way of life largely unseen (or exaggerated by those outside of it) as well as a touching depiction of fighting for what’s most important in life.” (Jordan Raup, The Film Stage)