A film based on the real life story of its lead, a non-actor from Brooklyn, as he fights to keep his son after his wife’s death has connected with festival audiences and critics alike
As a tiny film about a hapless Hasidic Jew, starring non-actors speaking almost entirely in Yiddish, hopes for Menashe’s reception were modest, to say the least. Yet it has connected with festival audiences and critics: note-perfect and with a huge heart, it’s a story about a closed community, but one that ripples with resonance. Whatever our culture, it obliquely suggests, we are fundamentally the same. It’s a tonic.
Menashe’s director, Joshua Z Weinstein, a practising non-Orthodox Jew, was raised in suburban New Jersey, but on weekends he would visit his grandparents in Brooklyn and Queens. There, he would catch glimpses of Hasids, stoking his curiosity. He’s primarily a cinematographer, and extensive work on documentaries has introduced him to myriad cultures, but the one on his doorstep enticed him most. Searching for stories in 2014, Weinstein spent much time in Borough Park, an Orthodox area of Brooklyn, dressed respectfully in a white shirt, black trousers and yarmulke. Eventually, through a film-making friend, he found his man.