A review of “Ushpizin” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for adult themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In Hebrew with English subtitles

 

 

This sweetly compassionate Israeli offering has its heart firmly established in the home and the hearth.

The festive Jewish holiday of Succoth is a time for celebration and harvest, a time for worship and cheerfully shared meals. For Moshe Bellanga (Shuli Rand) and his wife Malli (Michal Bat Sheva Rand) this traditional time of joy is tainted by the frustrations of poverty. 

Moshe doesn’t have the shekels for a proper succah (a temporary dwelling used during the festival) or for the four species to make up a proper blessing: date-palm branches, myrtle, willow and citron.

What’s a member of the Chasidim to do? When Moshe and Malli receive an anonymous cash donation from a local charity it seems like a gift from the heavens, and just in time to gather together the necessary holiday accoutrements.

The childless couple invites an old friend of Moshe’s and one of his buddies to share their feast, an important giving element of Succoth.  Little do they know that the two are escaped convicts for whom the couple’s faith (and Moshe’s shady past) is an object of ridicule and scorn.

A broader base of knowledge would be helpful in understanding the foundation of this folksy and subtly baffling tale of Orthodox belief and tradition but its core of tolerance is universal. Moshe and Malli’s manner of dealing with their obnoxious guests is both humorous and poignant; their spirituality and faith in their God and each other unwavering. 

Filming in a confined area lends a stagy air to the proceedings that accentuates a desire to dig deeper into the culture and its natural surroundings. But the warmth and charm therein cannot be denied.