Friday Night Movie number 19 – Ushpizin (The Guests)


Someone recently said to me that it would be very easy to write an algorithm to automate the choice of films for this weekly movie slot. If it is in monochrome, is British, is about World War II, shows the Germans getting a pasting, was made in the 1950’s and has battle scenes then it will probably turn up here. Either that or the choice would include some film noir or films with aircraft and road vehicles in.

That same person said that if they watched my choice of films in one continuous 8 hour session, they would probably come out of that session being able to speak enough German to order a beer or a meal and be able to produce their identity papers to a police officer.  I don’t think my choices are that obvious or predictable but I do like those sort of movies.


However, this weeks film defies the simple categorisation of film choices that I’ve summarised above.

This weeks Friday Night Film (or Saturday Night Film if you choose) is an Israeli film called Ushpizin. Ushpizin is an Aramaic word that means guests, or rather it refers specifically the guests who are supposed to be invited into a Succah or temporary dwellings, which are erected to celebrate the Jewish festival of Succot.

The film is set around the preparations for, and the celebration of Succot, a festival which has both agricultural and biblical roots, see Leviticus 23:42. You don’t need to be a Jew or to have an in depth knowledge of biblical theology to understand this film, just realise that for 7 days every year every Jew must dwell for 7 days in a leaky shed. However in wetter climates, such as Britain only the most (fool)hardy actually sleep in their Succah, many just take ‘dwell’ as meaning eat some grub in the Succah. Dwelling in the Succah also reminds us that life is but temporary and as as flimsy as the ricketty walls of the Succah itself. For more information on Succot go to JewFaq where there is basic information.

Now to the plot.

Moshe Balanga is a man with a past, and also a man who needs some serious miracles. He and his wife Mali, are Baal Teshuva (returnees to observant Orthodox Judaism) broke, childless but longing for a child, and have no Succah, no food and no ritual items (the ‘four species) for the forthcoming holiday. They resign themselves to having a very poor Succot and have accepted that sometimes bad times could be seen as a test from the Almighty.

Just before the holiday Moshe examines a very fine and extremely Kosher, Etrog (a lemon-like fruit that grows in Israel and which is one of the Four Species) but cannot afford the thousand Shekels that is being demanded for this example of a perfect fruit.

Moshe and Mali pray hard and they suddenly find themselves with the  unexpected bounties of a financial gift, a Succah sourced for them by a street charity collector, a fine Etrog, and even some guests to share their Succah with. However, these guests, or Ushpizin, although they arrive unexpectedly which is good, are two escaped convicts from the world of crime that Moshe and Mali have left, one of whom knew Moshe very well. This causes great tensions between Moshe and Mali, which spill over. There are some great dramatic and comical moments with the two secular criminals lifestyle clashing with that of the deeply religious community in Jerusalem.

I don’t want to give too much away as this film has some ‘surprise’ moments (watch out for the ‘salad’ scene) but it’s safe to say that the guests that Moshe prayed for turn out to be complete nightmares and Moshe begins to suspect that there is something not quite right about his Succah or where it came from.

This is a film that has a variety of comedic, thoughtful, spiritual, dramatic and exciting parts and is a film that captivated me from the first time I saw it.  The acting is superb and the character of Moshe and Mali really are of two people who are good but who are having a hard time in life.  This film has subtitles in English.

Yes this movie is a bit of a change from the usual ‘achtung, Spitfire’ sort of fare that I normally put up, but sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

I’d like to wish my Jewish readers a Peaceful Sabbath (Shabbat Shalom) and everyone else a lovely weekend.

Yes I know that some readers will say ‘you’re putting this up at the wrong time of the year’ but I thought this is such a good film that why should I wait until October when Succot comes around again?

Here’s the IMDB page for Ushpizin.