Tuesday, February 28, 2006


If you must see one film this year set in Jerusalem with religious themes and filmed entirely in middle eastern languages, make it Ushpizin. Much lighter in tone than Mel's Epic from a couple of years back, it is nevertheless very orthodox, very kosher, yet gently funny.

This is the first time I have been to see a film at the cinema where the owner of the cinema comes out and explains the film to us. He spoke briefly about how he saw it at Cannes and fell in love with it, and brought it to Australia. He explained it was the big hit of the Israeli cinema circuit last year, both with orthodox and secular Jews.

He gave us background on the making of the film. Shuli Rand, who plays the main character Moshe Balanga, was Israel's leading actor until he became religious and disappeared from the public eye. Nine years on he re-appears with a script that reflects both his own story and that of Abraham and Sarah. His wife in the film is his real life wife - a male and female orthodox Jew cannot be alone together unless they are married, so another actress would not have done. Anyway Mali (that was her character's name) was perfect in the role. Most of the parts in the film were played by orthodox jews who weren't actors, but who did a credible job at portraying themselves.

The Cinema guy also told us of the Feast of the Tabernacles, or the Festival of Succoth, which is the time of year when the film is set. Every year Jews remember the wanderings in the wilderness of Moses and the Children of Israel by erecting crude huts to live in for a few days. It puts life into perspective. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent in which we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in Heaven, not built by human hands. (read the next few verses for more). A miracle provides the penniless Moshe and Mali with a nice, big hut.

There is also the four species, four plants which represent the four types of human beings. They are brought together in the hands and shown to the four directions of the earth, and up and down, as a symbol and prayer for the unity of humanity. Another miracle provides the couple with enough money not only for the feasting, but to buy one perfect (and we mean PERFECT) Citron, one of the four species.

But with miracles comes the testing of faith, in this case in the form of the Ushpizin, two 'guests', from God, who turn out to be a pair of escaped convicts, one of whom was an old friend from Moshe's pre-religious, violent past.
A movie about faith and the possibility of change. If you want to see the implications of sincere faith, and don't mind reading subtitles (or are fluent in Yiddish and Hebrew, the German people I was with understood a lot of the Yiddish bits, and I discovered one of the words they were using for God was very similar in my ears to the the Czech word for God - Bohu! one of the few words I know in Czech!), go see it!

Official Site IMDB

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