"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ushpizin: A Review

You really must see this movie. I saw it tonight. It is simply fabulous.

To me it means something a bit different, that's true. First of all, I understand the Hebrew and do not need the subtitles. Secondly, the Orthodox Jewish world that I grew up in is radically different than what this film portrays. I grew up in the environment of the Lithuanian-type Yeshiva, a super-intellectual society following a very cerebral system in which scholarship is the be-all and pretty much the end-all. My experience was similar to what you might have if your father was a Princeton professor and you grew up on campus. This movie, by contrast, is based in the Hasidic world, where most of the focus is on emotion and faith. (The Hasidic movement began in Eastern Europe in the 1700s and created a bitter war among religious Jews that lasted for about a century. Now the two sides tolerate each other, more or less.) Thirdly, I did live in Israel and encountered some of the types of people described.

But trust me, wherever you are "coming from", you need to see this film. It is extremely well-acted by the four main stars, and some of the secondary characters were quite endearing as well. The husband and wife acting team who play the husband and wife communicate genuine love, and are totally comfortable in each other's space, but they never touch each other in any scene.

The insight into Hasidic life in Israel, particularly for the born-again types who are accepted into these incredibly conservative communities despite their secular - and occasionally criminal - backgrounds, is very profound. It is absolutely pitch-perfect in its accuracy. There were scenes there that must happen every day in virtually the same language.

The star, Shuli Rand, wrote the script and it is full of wit and pathos. The moments of love, the moments of disagreement between husband and wife, the conflicts between doing the right thing or not, the analysis of trying to identify the right thing, and even the moments where he takes you right to the edge of violence, all ring true and register very passionately.

And at the end of the day its message is truly universal, but I won't tell you what it is: see the movie. It opened in Miami on November 23rd; check your local listings.

2 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"I grew up in the environment of the Lithuanian-type Yeshiva, a super-intellectual society following a very cerebral system in which scholarship is the be-all and pretty much the end-all. My experience was similar to what you might have if your father was a Princeton professor and you grew up on campus. This movie, by contrast, is based in the Hasidic world, where most of the focus is on emotion and faith."

Interesting, I had thought the kind of focus on academic learning you describe in your own background was fairly universal amongst different sects of Judaism.

Jay D. Homnick said...

They all study quite a bit, but the Yeshiva type of study is more intellectual, with a very advanced awareness of epistemology. The analytical system employed is stunningly ingenious and, once mastered, can be applied to most life situations.

In the Hasidic environment (although they sometimes call their schools Yeshivas), the focus is more horizontal, i.e. to amass knowledge even if fairly superficial. Most of the energy is invested in the passional, devotional side of service.

In the Yeshiva the most profound scholar is king. In the Hasidic world the most pious man is king.

(And let's not get into the whole pharisaical and jesuitical thing.)