Menashe is based loosely on the life of its lead actor, Menashe Lustig, who—like most of the film’s cast—is a ḥasidic Jew without prior acting experience. Set in the ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn enclave of Borough Park, and with dialogue almost entirely in Yiddish (with English subtitles), the film tells the story of a father struggling after his wife’s death to gain custody of his son. Jonathan Leaf writes in his review:
A movie that takes a sympathetic view of a faithful adherent to a Judeo-Christian religious group is as rare as a meteor from Pluto or a ski instructor in the Bahamas. It isn’t just improbable. Nowadays it’s nearly unheard of. Yet that’s what the remarkable new movie Menashe is. . . .
The group in which [its title character] lives really is a community. The word is not just a meaningless term in the service of political propaganda as it might be in an expression like the “arts community.” This means that Menashe respects its decisions. These are handed down by his elderly rabbi, his “ruv.” . . .
Menashe is relatively slow-moving and intimate, and its hero is a tubby, disheveled figure. There are no beautiful people in this movie and no action sequences. The opening credits of a typical Hollywood picture contain twenty times more violence and quite a bit more sex appeal. . . . Moreover, the movie’s production values are mostly below the level of video taken on a more recent generation of iPhone.
But Menashe has something sorely lacking from the overwhelming majority of mainstream movies: three-dimensional characters, a thoroughly plausible story, and a wealth of soul.