In A24's latest indie find Joshua Weinstein's MENASHE proves an old yiddish tradition true. A ber lernt men oykh oys tantsn, which translates to – Even a bear can be taught to dance. Here is my full review for this moving look at a father struggling to keep his son.
Joshua Weinstein and writers Alex Lipschultz & Musa Syeed aren't diving into the first look at the ultra orthodox Jewish world, but their take on a unique lead character like Menashe is quite refreshing. The burly lead is a man who fails at most things in life and seems utterly incapable of maintaining a quality environment for his son, Rieven. Menashe's constant yearning to keep his son immediately allows you to push for him. After his wife, Lea, dies Menashe is striken with the Jewish tradition of having children put into more "family" settings since women are meant to take care of the home and kids. Thus Rieven is taken and given over to Lea's brother. The more strict but successful uncle has the means to fully take car of Rievan. But to the amazement of most the Rabbi of the community chooses to allow Rievan to stay with Menashe for the full week leading up the memorial of Lea. In this time we see Menashe battle his tough boss, his brother-in-law, and time trying to keep Rieven fully connected. The acting in the film is extremely honest and genuine. The cinematography by Yoni Brook and Weinstein himself allows for a more intimate look throughout the film's 80 minutes. The authentic realistic view into the everyday Hasidic world is compelling. Though the traditions may confuse and contradict with the truth of modern life, the way in which Menashe stays with in his world to try to keep his son is admirable. One of the better sequences is when a distraught Menashe opens up about the death of his wife and the losing of his son to his two Hispanic co-workers. This mix of gentile and Jewish connection is easily the most universal and refreshing moment in the film. They understand his turmoil, but from a different persepective and are there for Menashe as friends. The film is a simple and yet moving look into a world that is steeped in ancient tradition, but as the proverb says, Even a Bear can be taught to dance. Or in this sense Menashe can learn to live his life and still do right for his son Rievan. One of the year's indie gems that is worth a look. Dallas folks you can see the film at The Magnolia Theater or up in Plano at the Angelika Film Center.