Every so often, I like to use this space to draw the readers' attention to movies that have been overlooked, or, if not overlooked, deserve a second glance. I did this with the French film "Diva"; this time around, the film is quite different, but even better. The Israeli movie "Ushpizin" (2005) is a perfect little gem, and should be of especial interest to Christians and Jews alike.
Directed by Gidi Dar and set in modern Jerusalem, "Ushpizin" (which translates as "The Guests") deals with the trials and adventures of a very loving, very orthodox couple, Moshe and Mali, who are preparing for the upcoming celebration of Succot (what the English Bible calls the Feast of Tabernacles). Celebrated in the month of Tishrei (late September to late October), the festival commemorates the Hebrews' 40 years in the wilderness, when they dwelled in crude "booths" (Americans might call them shacks) covered with bamboo shoots or other wooden branches. During the "Holy Week" which includes Succot, Jewish families move into these booths to live, or use them to host guests: the holiday is important to Jews visiting Israel. "Ushpizin" concerns the adventures of Moshe and Mali during this week.
Moshe was not always an observant Jew, much less an orthodox one; his background was apparently pretty wild, although the film wisely avoids spelling this out. But now the couple truly live for their faith, although they are hamstrung by financial difficulties: Moshe can't even purchase the materials for the sukkah (booth), much less the prescribed "Four Species" of fruits and vegetables required for the feast. Added to this, they have an ongoing problem: they are childless.
"Ushpizin" is a film containing little miracles, coming from the hand of God: some directly, some indirectly. Moshe unexpectedly receives the wherewithal to build his sukkah, and, as he shops one day, he finds a particularly beautiful citron (a citrus fruit, pictured in the above poster), to which he is irresistably drawn. He pays the outrageous price of one thousand shekels (about $300) for the fruit, and takes it home.
Then, unexpectedly, two friends from Moshe's "old days" show up, having just been released from prison. Moshe excitedly invites them to spend the holiday with him and Mali, although Mali is very troubled by the presence of these obvious ne'er-do-wells. Nevertheless, Moshe gives them the sukkah to stay in, and treats them as honored guests, as hospitality is the rule of the day on this holiday.
Then the drama really begins: the misunderstandings, the misadventures, and the miracles - - - about which I will say no more. This is a wonderful film, and well worth renting or buying.
The film is in Hebrew, with English subtitles. I doubt that Adolph Hitler could watch this movie without loving the characters.