Ushpizin

There's little difference between this joyful holiday film and the standard-issue yuletide-miracle movie, except that the holiday isn't Christmas — it's the Jewish harvest festival of Succoth and the celebrants belong to Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Succoth, which usually falls in September or October and lasts seven days, commemorates...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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There's little difference between this joyful holiday film and the standard-issue yuletide-miracle movie, except that the holiday isn't Christmas — it's the Jewish harvest festival of Succoth and the celebrants belong to Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Succoth, which usually falls in September or October and lasts seven days, commemorates the time when, having been granted safe passage from Egypt, Israelites took shelter in temporary shacks, or "sukkot." Each individual "succah" was considered a blessing from God, and now observant Jews show thanks by annually building a succah in which they live and eat with their families for one week. The observance also serves as a reminder that our time on earth is temporary and that we're all ushpizin — the Aramaic word for Succoth guests. This particular Succoth eve finds Rabbi Moshe Bellanga (Shuli Rand) without the money to pay rent on his apartment, never mind building a succah and decorating it with the traditional fruits and flowers. His wife of five years, Malli (Michal Bat Sheva Rand), suggests he pray just a little bit harder, and lo and behold, Moshe's extra prayer session appears to make a difference: Not only does a yeshiva friend find a (supposedly) abandoned succah for Moshe and Malli to use, but Moshe is randomly selected by an anonymous charity to receive a $1000 gift. But with all these blessings come two unannounced ushpizin: Eliyahu Scorpio (Shaul Mizrahi), a friend from the rowdy "old days" before Moshe got religion, and his sidekick, Yossef (Ilan Ganani). Unbeknownst to Malli, they're escaped convicts, and they've arrived just in time to put Moshe and Malli's faith in God — and their marriage — to the test. Written, directed and shot by secular filmmaker Gidi Dar, this film is a unique collaboration with a deeply religious and ordinarily closed community. And while the pacing is swift, there's an underlying seriousness that might not be readily apparent to those unfamiliar with ultra-Orthodox marriage customs — Malli's fear that she'll never bear Moshe a son is more than just the despondency of a woman who desperately wants a child. She knows that unless she bears a male heir, tradition dictates that her husband must abandon her for another wife. This very situation served as the basis for Israeli director Amos Gitai's far angrier KADOSH (1999), but the wonderful chemistry between Rand and Bat Sheva Rand, his real-life wife, suggest that in some cases love may prove stronger than the dictates of religious orthodoxy.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: There's little difference between this joyful holiday film and the standard-issue yuletide-miracle movie, except that the holiday isn't Christmas — it's the Jewish harvest festival of Succoth and the celebrants belong to Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Jewish c… (more)

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