Menashe is the kind of microbudget indie that will easily get lost in the noise of a megaplex summer, but it’s worth seeking out: The tenderhearted story of a 30ish Hasidic widower (Menashe Lustig) striving to carve out a life for himself and his young son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), in Brooklyn’s strict ultra-Orthodox community.
Messy, feckless, and barely solvent — he keeps finding fresh ways to burn through the scant paycheck he earns stocking a local bodega — Menashe is more an unreliable friend to Rieven than a father: He fills him up with soda and cake for breakfast and is much better at making lion sounds than passing on the wisdom of the Talmud. But he also adores him, and chafes at the stern brother-in-law and rule-bound elders who insist he’s not fit to parent until he takes a new wife. (His first marriage, he reveals to his Hispanic co-workers with halting honesty one night over backroom beers, wasn’t so great.)
With his dumpling body and frizzled ginger beard, Lustig is probably no one’s idea of a movie star, but he gives a lovely, lived-in performance. And the film (shot mostly in Yiddish) has an unpolished intimacy, peeling back the surface exoticism of a cloistered faith to reveal the poignantly ordinary struggle of being an imperfect person in the world. B+