6/22/2005

Review of 'Ushpizin'

If you've ever read or heard one of R' Nachman of Breslov's stories, and been amazed that it's really two stories in one - a 'surface' story and an 'inner' story - and wondered if it could be done through the medium of film, you can stop wondering. Ushpizin succeeds in spades.

The film itself is deserving of the acclaim it recieved. Part 'Monkey's Paw', part 'A Beautiful Mind', the struggles of this poor, childless couple with their past is compelling and beautiful. The setting is authentic and touching, the portrait of faith captures its simplicity and intensity, the rhythms of religious life provide a framework for the whole film and are beauifully done. The development of the main character, a true 'Chassid' with a turbulent inner world, constantly struggling with himself, and with a certain disdain for oblivious joy, though contrived at times, is stunning.

Watching a film which was made completely 'halakhically' is quite a treat, as is a letter of prohibition against unlawful duplication signed by the Gedolim in lieu of an FBI Warning. You can read all about that elsewhere. It's not yet available in the US, and doesn't yet have English subtitles, but it won't be much longer.

What toally blew me away about this film is its use of Chassidic metaphor and symbolism which transforms the 'surface' story into the inner struggle of the lead character, Moshe. The Etrog, symbolizing striving for beauty and harmony - sublimation instead of repression. The Sukkah - man's existential vulnerability, reliance upon God, and tenuousness of a redemptive or transformative experience. The 'Ushpizin' themselves - escapees from prison - the past that cannot be repressed but will continue to haunt, and the struggle that one has with them, trying to make space for them while not allowing them to overwhelm. I will leave it to the viewer to decide whether, in the end, they are 'sublimated'.
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