"All beginnings are hard," it is written in the Talmud. And Menashe is finding life hard since he lost his wife Leah a year ago. His son Rieven has gone to, or been sent to, his mother's brother's house to live. Menashe, a hapless, portly Jew, wants his son back.
The rabbi of his tightly constrained Hasidic community, shown in tight camera shots, grants Menashe a week to earn his son back. It's the week before Leah's memorial, which her brother thinks should be held at his house, not in Menashe's crowded flat. In that week, Menashe does everything wrong.
He has a job for a pain-in-the-tuchas boss at a grocery store, where he loads and unloads Sisyphean boxes. He is in debt and has the chutzpah to ask his boss for a loan after costing his boss money. He cannot cook and has to ask his neighbor for her recipe for kugel if he plans to feed the men he's invited to Leah's memorial.
He does not present himself in coat and hat as do the rest of the men in his minyan. He sometimes does not have the water for morning ablutions. He struggles. He despairs. He longs. He tries to counsel Rieven, and he does confront his oppositional brother-in-law, the know-it-all. Menashe does not get very far, but it is that tiny incremental step as seen over this week of trial that gives heart to Menashe.
Menashe Lustig stars as the title character, who holds the focus of the film. He was directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein, a co-writer of the script. The dialogue is entirely Yiddish except for some Spanglish spoken by the Hispanics in Menashe's grocery store, in one sympathetic scene crossing cultures. Weinstein is not a member of the Hasidic community nor does not speak Yiddish, so he kept a translator on set through the shoot.
This film, running under 90 minutes, rightly deserves to be slotted in the category "slice of life."