‘Menashe,’ a Yiddish-language Sundance hit about a widowed father, will break your heart

Director Joshua Weinstein’s first narrative feature is a tender and unique take on parenthood and marriage.

A24’s Menashe is a rarity. The chic indie distributor’s first foreign-language acquisition, picked up after its January premiere at Sundance, is a film about a single Hasidic father living in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood; it features a cast of Hasidic actors and is entirely in Yiddish. That last detail is an impressive feat, considering you’re unlikely to meet a young person today who can say something in Yiddish other than “schmuck” and “shvitz.”

The titular character, played by newcomer Menashe Lustig in a role largely is approaching. The people in his community — including his wealthy, no-nonsense brother-in-law and the Ruv (the head rabbi, more of a theocrat than your average religious leader) — think Menashe should remarry. They insist a two-parent household is best for his boy, Rieven, and threaten to strip Menashe of custody if he doesn’t find a wife soon. Single parenting carries such stigma that the Ruv, making it sound like some sort of contagion, mentions the possibility of Rieven being kicked out of school if Menashe doesn’t get his act together.

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