Sunday, May 07, 2006

Review: Ushpizin

The plot seems simple enough. Moshe and Malli, a baal teshuva Breslov couple, are down on their luck right before Sukkot, with no money for a lulav and etrog, a sukkah, or even kiddush wine. An unexpected $1000 from a charity saves their yom tov. But with the blessing comes what seems like a curse, in the form of Eliyahu and Yossef, two escaped convicts, one of whom is a friend from Moshe's shady past. These two convicts test the couple's patience and their marriage, yet all ends well, with all the curses leading to even greater blessings. A simple plot expertly executed and with a good dose of humor, but like the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Ushpizin is deceptively packed with the deep teachings of Breslov Chassidut, with its emphasis on prayer, hope, struggle, and faith.

Moshe and Malli Bellanga are played by real-life husband and wife Shuli Rand and Michal Bat Sheva Rand. Shuli Rand is a seasoned Israeli actor who become a Breslov Chassid in 1996. He gives a powerful performance as Moshe, a role that won him a well-deserved Israeli Oscar in 2004, after an 8 year absence from film. Michal Bat Sheva Rand makes her film debut in Ushpizin, but gives a performance as equally impressive as her husband's.

Eliyahu and Yossef are played by Shaul Mizrahi and Ilan Ganani. Mizrahi has an excellent ability to portray a career criminal, yet at the same time lets the character's softer side shine through the cracks. Ganani, on the other hand, does much to provide the film with its comic moments.

Ushpizin is directed by Gidi Dar, a secular Israeli filmmaker, and written by Shuli Rand, who is a longtime friend of Dar. This combination of secular and religious sensibilities is what makes Ushpizin groundbreaking. Upon Rand's insistence, the film was made according to Halacha, with no filming on Shabbat, or immodest situations or images. Surprisingly, Dar insisted on using real Orthodox Jews to play all the Orthodox characters, with some of these roles being filled by former actors who had become baalei teshuva, while others were filled by observant Jews venturing into acting for the first time. In addition, Dar and Rand received encouragement and religious support from Rand's teacher Rabbi Shalom Arush, head of Chut Shel Chessed Yeshiva, and many of the yeshiva's students figure prominently as extras. The result is a modern film that will appeal to a wide variety of audiences, while showing Jewish religious life with an authenticity rarely seen on film.

From its opening scene to the closing credits (which features the funky/jazzy "Yesh Rak HaKodesh Baruch Hu" by Adi Ran), Ushpizin is a great film for any season of the year.

Ushpizin is now out on DVD.


Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

Yeah that really was a great movie, one of the best I saw in 2005.

I must say, that scene with the "lemon" juice was painful... great timing etc.

Sun May 07, 05:16:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Jacob said...

Everyone I know who saw this loved it. I read a review somewhere describing it as a modern fable, and I think that describes it pretty well.

Mon May 08, 12:50:00 PM 2006  

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