I haven’t seen a movie in years — or I should say, until a few days ago, I hadn’t seen one — and I certainly am not a movie reviewer, but I just have to tell you about this movie: USHPIZIN. There’s been a lot of buzz about it so you have probably heard of it, but I just want to tell you, I LOVED THIS MOVIE!
The title is an Aramaic word meaning “guests” and generally refers to the other-worldly guests, our Biblical patriarchs, who visit the sukka each day during the festival of Sukkos. In this film the ushpizin are uninvited Sukkos guests who need a place to stay.
The reviews I’ve read have all been very positive but do yourself a favor — don’t read any reviews, they will inevitably spoil some of the surprise and freshness of seeing the movie without preconceived notions.
Which is how I saw it. My husband has a Judaica store in Hollywood (Florida!) and was given two tickets to a private pre-release showing of this movie, which is how I came to see it. He didn’t know anything except “they say it’s very kosher” and “it’s Israeli.” Having no idea what the movie was about and no expectations whatsoever, I found myself transported with delight at every unfolding and unexpected frame of this movie.
I am not going to tell you the plot but I will tell you a few things about the movie. It’s in Hebrew and Yiddish with English subtitles. The main character is played by a man who apparently was a famous movie star in Israel before he became a Ba’al Teshuva (newly Orthodox) a few years ago. The woman who plays his wife is his real wife and is also a BT.
If you don’t go to movies I’m not sure I would say you should start now, but if you do go to movies, DON’T MISS THIS ONE. It’s charming, funny, sweet, sad, poignant, did I mention delightful?
The movie takes place during the festival of Sukkos and is timed for release in American movie theaters this week, when we will be celebrating Sukkos in real life. The street scenes of Jerusalem, with the men buying lulov-and-esrog sets and building their sukkos, are perfect for this season.
The characters are all dressed very modestly, there is absolutely nothing in the movie that the most devout person would have to avert his eyes from, the language is clean — in short, this is such a squeaky clean movie that you may find it hard to believe me when I tell you that YOU WILL LOVE THIS MOVIE. But you will.
Among the delights of the movie: the characters are so real, so human, they have such depth to them. They want to live up to their new, religious life, but they struggle. Their faith is not always strong, they have flaws and failings, they try to be good people but don’t always succeed.
I’ve seen a lot of movies in my life which purported to show frum people as they are, but they all fell short. For instance, in The Chosen, the rebbe didn’t even look Jewish, his payos looked glued-on, his wife was too pretty in a come-hither way, plus she totally did not know how to sit or walk or move her hands in a believable chassidic way, and so on. The same for A Stranger Among Us and every other movie I’ve ever seen with supposedly frum characters.
But in this movie there is none of that Hollywood fakery. These people walk the walk and talk the talk, and part of the walk and talk is that they are so far from perfect! And yet so charming and sweet and fundamentally loveable! They suffer trials and setbacks in their upward spiritual climb, they talk to G-d and question Him, they argue with each other and disagree about what to do next when life throws them curveballs. I want to quote every delicious and delightful line but am refraining from doing so, so as not to spoil your pleasure.
One more thing before I go: the movie tells a simple story and doesn’t carry any political message, but subliminally it does counter the stereotype of chareidi wives in Me’ah She’arim as oppressed and down-trodden drudges. Throw out every stupid Naomi Ragen novel you ever read. This movie has the real lowdown: this husband and wife — without ever kissing or even touching on camera, without ever getting mushy — convey in subtle and wondrous ways how much they love each other, respect each other and need each other. And they look like real people, too, not glamorous AT ALL. But this couple will win your heart.
Here is a link to a movie review, but read it AFTER you’ve seen the movie. (Sound on.)