A comedy about Orthodox Jews? Typically, a premise like this would mock the religion. Ushpizin is different. Its filmmakers are from Israel, and grew up and spent time with Orthodox Jews. Director Giddi Dar (Eddie King) and screenwriter Shuli Rand wanted to make a film that was entertaining and followed the rules of Orthodox Judaism. No cussing, absolutely nothing remotely close to sex, and women separate from non-related men. This had to be true both in front of and behind the camera. The result is interesting - an almost sitcom-like look at a few harried days in the life of an Orthodox couple. The film does follow all of the conventions required of the religion, which is probably the most interesting aspect.

Ushpizin gives viewers a look into the guarded lives of Orthodox Jews. They can be just like everybody else. They have good days, and, like the people here, some unbelievably bad ones. They worry about having enough money to survive. And while it gives a fair portrayal of these people with resorting to mocking them (as they typically are in films), it is not that funny, which is not good for a comedy. Rand (Marco Polo: Haperak Ha'aharon, Milim) is Moshe Bellanga, a very devout man who is very broke. Worse, the holiday of Succah is nearly here. During Succoth, many Jews erect temporary housing (Succah) and have guests, or Ushpizin stay there. They buy the four species: citron, myrtle, date-palm branches, and willow in order to make blessings. All of this information flows organically in conversation, and never feels like a religious lesson.

There is a strain on Bellanga's marriage to Malli (Michal Bat-Sheva Rand) because of the lack of funds and their desire for children. Fortune smiles upon them when Bellanga locates an unused Succah, and they receive a large cash gift. Things improve further when a childhood friend of Bellanga's, Eliyahu Scorpio (Avanim, Dogs are Color Blind) and his friend Yossef (Ilan Ganani, Electricity Man). Here is where the Bellanga's good fortune begins to go very bad. Scorpio and Yossef are not Orthodox. Worse, they escaped from prison. Bellanga's friendship with Scorpio comes from a time earlier in his life when he did some very shady things. Bellanga's guests are rude and eat all of the Bellanga's food. The longer they stay, the more they realize they can impose on their hosts. This annoys Malli to no end, and begins Bellanga on the process of a slow boil.

Bellanga needs to balance his anger with his religion. Every rational thought he has tells him to throw out Scorpio and Yossef, but his devotion to his religion tells him that it must be some kind of test. He will relent, and Scorpio comes back to do something even worse. How far is this man willing to go to make his life easier? It's a simple premise, but not as effective as it could be. The Rands (they are married in real life too) tend to overact when they shouldn't, causing the comedy to come a bit too close to slapstick. Ushpizin also feels padded, especially as it begins to go into the third act.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 30 minutes, Hebrew with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for mild thematic elements.

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