Monday, December 05, 2005


I saw Ushpizin last night (official website; see the trailer). A lot has been said about this film: the first film made by Israeli Haredim to gain critical acclaim, both internationally (and more surprisingly) in Israel.

There have been many films depicting Haredi life over recent years (from the engaging to the ridiculous); Israeli depictions have at times been less honest depictions than defamatory screeds (I think it is interesting that Modern Orthodox people, typically, are defensive of Haredim when secular Jews or non Jews deride them, yet we so often criticise and mock them. It's as if we feel we have exclusive rights to do so. Interesting).

This movie does not intend to be objective: the lead actors are themselves Haredim (and husband and wife in real life); and not just any Haredim, but formerly secular members of the cultural elite who became Breslov Hasidim.

The movie was a sweet, but nonetheless if one probes beyond the surface, carried a serious message. The message is not one that people like myself, the modernist Orthodox with their rational worldview and belief in living in the outside world and taking responsibility for our own futures. It is a message that simple faith, and a little help from mystical figures, works miracles. Moshe could be derided as passive and lazy, not taking action to support his wife, and letting others walk all over him. A Maimonidean would feel distinctly uneasy with investing a mitzvah object, such as the etrog, with magical powers. But the incredible diversity of philosophy -- while still adhering to the same Halacha -- is part of the strength of Orthodox Judaism.

The central couple, Moshe and Mali (Shuli and Michal Rand) evinced absolute authenticity, as one might expect, in playing secular Israelis turned Breslov Hasidim. In particular, Moshe, in his portrayal of a violent criminal turned pentitent, was outstanding. Moshe's old partner-in-crime, Eliyahu Scorpio (Shaul Mizrahi, who played Zohar Argov in an incredible biopic of Israel's greatest singer) and his goofy offsider Yosef (Ilan Gannani) cleverly combined farce and menace.

All in all, a beautiful story, which I can thoroughly recommend.

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