seen @ Lincoln Plaza Cinema, New York NY
Hang around Brooklyn long enough and you'll see some Hasidic Jews. Granted, they don't stray far from their pocket neighborhoods, but you can run into a few in public places like parks, beaches or the subway. The L train goes through their part of town, for example.
How isolated are they from the rest of New York City? When the city wanted to install a bike lane through South Williamsburg several years ago, the locals opposed it, in part, because they objected to the sight of women in shorts and tank tops biking through their neighborhood. (Hasidic women tend to dress very conservatively.) Later, when the city's bike share program expanded throughout North Brooklyn, there was a hole in the network the size of South Williamsburg.
Now, some people might notice the inconsistency in a neighborhood that relies on the same basic utilities - gas, electricity, water, etc. - as the rest of the five boroughs, yet is allowed to dictate how the city can use its streets that run through their neck of the woods, streets built, cleaned and maintained by the city... but those people don't work for the Mayor's Office or the Department of Transportation.
Still, the Hasidim are not so different from the rest of us in the ways that count. Menashe is a film about a single father fighting for custody of his young son. (In that respect, it reminded me a lot of Kramer vs. Kramer.) Is he a drunkard or a junkie? Nope. Is he irresponsible? The man works as a store clerk and hustles to get to work on time and to get his son ready for school. Is he abusive? He adores his son; he reads the Torah with him, takes him to the park and gets him a baby chick to raise at home. So why can't he keep his son?
Simple. He's a widower, and his religion says he has to remarry. Raising a child at home is not supposed to be his responsibility.
Director Joshua Weinstein, who also did the taxi documentary Drivers Wanted, recruited his cast from within the Hasidic community. He shot some exteriors on the down low; not everyone in the neighborhood was thrilled to see a movie being made about their lives. Menashe Lustig is quite good as the father. He is a bit of a misfit within his world, yet he is still a product of it. He never challenges the doctrine that says he has to remarry; he knows the rules, but his love for his son is actually an impediment to following them. Oh, and did I mention this entire movie is in Yiddish, bubbeleh?
I saw this with Vija and Lynn. This was Lynn's suggestion; as soon as I read a review of it, I had a feeling it might be worth seeing. Also with us was Joan, a woman I met not long before I left NYC, back when Vija tried to put together a support group for artists. As I recall, Joan made collages. I remember I used to enjoy giving her a hard time because she claimed to not like the Beatles. (She's old enough to have been around for them.) She's no square, though; she's actually quite kind and pleasant. This was the first time I could recall her seeing a movie with us. I think she liked the film.