Without much to go on in terms of budget or professional expertise, this thoughtful first film from Israeli-born filmmaker Adam Vardy offers an interesting take on the plight of a young Hassidic Jew who, in fleeing his home and family, attempts to forge a new life for himself far from the only things he ever knew. After he's caught dallying with the daughter of a fellow member of his ultra-Orthodox Hassidic sect, young Yeshiva student Mendalle "Mendy" Rosentzwiet (Ivan Sandomire) flees his Brooklyn neighborhood for the Manhattan apartment of Yankel (Spencer Chandler), a childhood friend who ran away from home when he was only 12. Having cut all ties with his family and shamed the community, Yankel now parties hard, beds as many "shiksas" as he can manage and supports himself by working for Michael (Jonathan Hova), a "Zionist" (read: Israeli) drug trafficker and strip-club owner. Michael is also Yankel's landlord: He owns the apartment where Yankel lives with his beautiful Brazilian roommate Bianca (Gabriela Dias), an aspiring choreographer who's putting herself through NYU tending bar at Michael's club. Mendy hopes to hide out with Yankel until the storm blows over back home in Brooklyn, but he's in no way prepared for Yankel's world of sex, drugs and booze. In fact, Mendy isn't prepared for any world other than the one he's just escaped. With his long side-curls, black coat and large-brimmed hat, Mendy looks like an 19th-century, old-world immigrant, and his English is about as poor; Yiddish is what's spoken back home. Mendy is also so ill-educated in everything other than Torah and Talmud interpretation that when Bianca tells him she's from Brazil, he has no idea what she's talking about. In Yankel and Bianca's world, nothing Mendy's learned has any meaning and none of the strict rules he once relied upon to guide his morality seem to apply. As he begins to fall in love with Bianca — a woman who is not only not Jewish, but black — Mendy realizes that if he's to survive in this world both as a man and as a Jew he'll have to start from scratch. Inspired in large part by Rebecca Segall's 1997 Village Voice article about the travails of a group young Hassidic men who'd escaped from the highly insular and ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect, the film also draws on the personal experiences of co-writer Hershey Schnitzler who, in leaving the Satmar community, was also forced to leave behind a wife, children and his parents. While Vardy and Schnitzler are hardly sympathetic to the ultra-Orthodox way of life — several references are made to the sect's strong anti-Zionist attitudes — their film does show why so many young people raised in such communities find it so difficult to ever leave.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: NR
- Review: Without much to go on in terms of budget or professional expertise, this thoughtful first film from Israeli-born filmmaker Adam Vardy offers an interesting take on the plight of a young Hassidic Jew who, in fleeing his home and family, attempts to forge a… (more)