Ushpizin

Film

Time Out says

Made with cooperation from Orthodox haredi residents of Jerusalem, this parable is set over Succot, a festival of hospitality during which a makeshift shack serves as the site for ritualised welcome. Shalom Rand, the film’s scriptwriter, stars as Moshe, a rabbi with a past; his wife Michal Bat-Shiva Rand plays Moshe’s wife Mali. Devout but childless and impoverished, the couple give thanks when they are gifted both the cash to prepare for the holiday and guests to wait upon: escaped convicts with healthy appetites and a willingness to indulge the couple’s keenness to please.

There’s a storybook simplicity to the plot that befits a devotional work. (Like his character, Rand himself turned late in life to a rabbinical career, returning to entertainment after eight years – with his rabbi’s blessing.) A lesson in humility before God regardless of ostensibly good or bad fortune, ‘Ushpizin’ makes room for personalised touches and is enlivened by strong performances: Moshe’s suppressed anger is clear even before the most trying tests of his patience – mostly revolving around a very special, pricey lemon – while Mali’s warmth and generosity are conveyed with moving economy rather than mawkishness. As the prisoners on the lam, meanwhile, Shaul Mizrahi and Ilan Ganani bring an initial sense of almost slapstick disruption that gives way to something more menacing, threatening not only the couple’s material and physical security but Moshe’s ethical and spiritual well-being. As lessons go, it’s a suspenseful and humane one.

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