After his wife Lea dies, Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is told by his conservative Yiddish community that he must find a new wife to run his household and help raise his son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski). Menashe, however enjoys the relationship he and his son have and isn’t looking to get married. Rieven, meanwhile is torn between his father and his uncle Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus), Lea’s brother, and the teachings of the Ruv (Meyer Schwartz), the rabbi of their community.
Rieven is living with his aunt and uncle until Menashe decides to take him home to raise him. The problem is, Menashe isn’t exactly the most responsible parent when he takes Rieven home. Constantly running late, feeding Rieven cake and soda for breakfast, struggling to pay the bills. Nonetheless, he loves his son more than anything and tries to do what’s best for him.
Rieven will be thrown out of his school if he is not in a two parent home. The Ruv agrees to let Rieven stay with Menashe until his wife’s memorial, then he must go back to Eizik’s house. Struggling to make the most of his limited time with Rieven and manage his life, Menashe tries to prove to those around him that he belongs in their community and his son belongs with him.
Menashe is inspired by the real life of its star, Menashe Lustig. It was filmed in secret in the Hasidic society Menashe lives in, giving an authentic look into the community in which Menashe lives.
Given that the film is based on his life, the acting by Menashe Lustig is as authentic as it gets. He is an outsider even in the community he lives in. All he wants is to be accepted and to have his son with him. Ruben Niborski is a little awkward as Menashe’s son Rieven, but it fits his character as a boy who doesn’t know where he belongs. The two share a chemistry that is fitting between a father and his somewhat estranged son. It works well for the film.
Filmed almost entirely in Yiddish with English subtitles forces you to divert a decent amount of attention to seeing what is being said. Overall, though, it doesn’t really detract from the film, thanks mostly to its slower pace. The lack of a score behind the film gives a more intimate feel, letting you focus solely on the characters and the story. However, the quietness of the scenes due to the lack of any score also makes the pace of the film seem a little slower than it may actually be. Fortunately, the story being told is enough to make up for this.
Menashe gives many a look into a society that doesn’t openly share. It is an ultra-conservative world where men must be married and women are meant to take care of the house and the children, not allowed to drive or attend college. It is an intimate portrait of a man who misses his wife and is trying to do best by his son. With such an up close look at the life, it can be enjoyed equally in the theater or at home.