Menashe: Sundance Film Festival Breakout Hit Opens in Chicago
As I sat down last week to watch the screening of a film made entirely in Yiddish, set in a secretive, ultra-Orthodox Jewish New York neighborhood, I wasn’t sure what to expect and how (or even if) I would connect with these characters. But moments in, I was curious and fascinated by the script, the story and how it was told. This is a movie that quickly captivates audiences with its unique voice and brave cast of non-actor characters who quietly reveal so much about their misunderstood, often misrepresented, community.
Menashe is the emotional and heart-warming story of a young widower (Menashe Lustig) who is struggling at work and at home. After the passing of his wife, Menashe’s brother-in-law takes custody of his son. Tradition says a child cannot be raised by a single father; the baseline to the film’s story. The centerpiece of the film is the family’s complicated relationships marked by heartbreak, complexity, confusion, intertwined with personal struggles that are strangely familiar and relatable.
What is truly remarkable about this film is that the cast is all non-actors; all members of the Hasidic community—real people with real stories and with no professional training or personal exposure to movies, arts and entertainment.
Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Alex Lipschultz, one of the film’s writers and producers, and graduate of Highland Park High School. Alex, along with director Joshua Weinstein, wanted to tell an impactful story while exposing a culture that most people, including most American Jews, know little or nothing about. “There was an interesting mystery to explore,” said Lipschultz. “This was a huge responsibility- to give an honest and true portrayal of a misunderstood community.”
Using realistic storytelling, the peaceful pace of the film holds viewers’ attention while allowing the story to narrowly focus on a specific moment in time. Lipschultz said he and Weinstein wanted the audience to feel like “a fly on the wall,” able to observe personal moments, stripped away of overly dramatic scenes. “This movie emerged directly from the community,” he said.
To think about how this story was revealed— and ultimately told— is truly remarkable in and of itself. Lipschultz and Weinstein, using their ability to make inter-personal connections and understand the human spirit, spent months immersed in the community, uncovering stories and most importantly, gaining deep, personal trust among those who agreed to be in the film, including the head Rabbi and members of Menashe’s family.
The film was first screened at Sundance Film Festival to a crowded theater of curious movie lovers, critics and Menashe himself. “It blew his mind,” Lipschultz said of Menashe. “Not only was he watching himself and his story on screen, but it was his first time in a movie theater.”
Menashe is a beautiful film that entertains, quietly educates and exposes the realities of life within a Hasidic community, while revealing the common moments of life, parenthood and family that are truly universal.
The exclusive Chicago screening of the critically-acclaimed film, Menashe, is on Tues., Aug. 8, 6:30pm at AMC Village Crossing in Skokie. The film officially opens in Chicago on Friday, Aug.11.
This show is sold out!
We will have a will-call list at the ticket office for anyone who would like to put their name down in case last minute tickets become available. Please note that placing your name on the will-call list does not guarantee tickets. Thank you.
Elizabeth Abrams is Communications Manager for JCC Chicago. She previously worked for Harpo Studios and CBS Chicago and has written for many publications including Chicago Parent Magazine, Yahoo! Homes, Yahoo! Money and more.