Review: Ushpizin


Onscreen chemistry gets a lot of lip service, but it seems that’s usually just a euphemism for casting two incredibly hot actors to look incredibly hot together, with little to no regard for the complicated dynamics of human relationships. Not so with Gidi Dar’s Ushpizin, which contains genuine chemistry and one of the warmest depictions of married life in quite some time. Moshe and Mali (real-life Orthodox Jewish couple Shuli Rand and Michal Bat-Sheva Rand) live in an ultra-Orthodox enclave in Jerusalem where they are struggling with a lack of money and a lack of children. But Moshe is a man of faith, and believes “If there is something someone doesn’t have, it is because he hasn’t prayed enough.” They are preparing to celebrate Succoth, the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt, for which each family builds a replica of a desert hut for eating and sleeping during the festival, welcoming family and guests (Ushpizin) to join them. Moshe and Mali’s holiday takes an unexpected turn when two of Moshe’s secular friends “from the old days,” escaped criminals Yossef (Ilan Ganani) and Eliyahu (Shaul Mizrahi), arrive just as the festival begins. As the newcomers move from bumbling caricatures to genuinely scary, they end up testing the couple’s hospitality, patience, and faith. But Ushpizin is as much about the couple’s relationship with each other as it is about their individual relationships with God. In one scene, a distraught Moshe literally runs into the woods to scream for advice; in another, a tightly framed Mali first appears to be gushing over her husband, but as the camera pulls back it becomes clear she is actually declaring her love directly to God. This is one of many scenes stolen outright by Bat-Sheva Rand and her effusive eyes, and she shines brightest when playing off her husband’s somber piousness. Rand’s Moshe radiates a quiet wisdom throughout, though his old pals’ buffoonery eventually draws out some of the long-dormant hellraiser of old. The film strikes a delicate balance in being sweet without cloying, and maintaining a certain innocence without being naïve. But the real balance on display is the one between the two leads, whose warmth and honesty shines brighter than a thousand Brangelinas.


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March 2009
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