Israel | 90 MINUTES | Hebrew, Yiddish |
During the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, it is traditional to live in a wooden shelter for seven days-and to entertain guests ("ushpizin" in Aramaic) is truly a mitzvah. So what if the guests are a couple of escaped convicts from your shadowy past? Newly Orthodox Jews Moshe Belanga(screenwriter Shalom Rand) and his wife Malka (Michal Bat-Sheva Rand), childless and penniless, are in need of a miracle. So when the not terribly "holy ushpizin" show up-the not insignificantly named Eliyahu (Shaul Mizrahi) and Yossef (Ilan Ganani)-infiltrating the couple's quiet Jerusalem neighborhood with drunken brawls and techno, it must be a test from God-right? The world of the ultra-Orthodox may seem like an unlikely setting for a comedy, but Ushpizin is a first in many respects. A collaboration between secular director Gidi Dar and longtime friend Rand, an Israeli actor who gave up his career nearly a decade ago to become an observant Jew, the film was made under Halachic (religious) law. With the exception of Mizrahi and Ganani, the cast is entirely composed of former actors who had abandoned their craft when they became ultra-Orthodox, including Daniel Dayan, once a Hollywood martial arts expert and now a venerated mystic. Rand's warm and generous screenplay blends the mysticism of a hassidic parable with the daily issues confronting the growing ranks of the ba'alei teshuva-ex-yuppies, New Age seekers and perhaps a reformed criminal or two who have returned to their roots with all the joy and fervor of the newly reborn.