We've been treated to quite a few Jewish-themed films in recent months, but the Israeli comedy-drama Ushpizin stands out from the pack – largely because it's the first film to be made by members of the ultra-Orthodox community in collaboration with secular filmmakers.
Not only that, but the non-religious moviemakers had to abide by the rules of their Orthodox cast. The film's star, Shuli Rand – a former actor who quit the profession several years ago after becoming religious – agreed to play the lead on the condition that his real life wife, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand, was cast alongside him, and that the film was not screened on Shabbat when it was released in Israel.
Here, the pair play husband and wife Moshe and Malli Belanga, who are both childless and strapped for cash – and pray to God for a way out of their predicament. By a series of contrivances, the solution to their financial problems arrives on their doorstep on the eve of Succot – but their plans for the festival are disrupted by the arrival of two shady figures from Moshe's past (back when it appears he was far less Orthodox than he is now). The pair settle into the couple's Succah and seem unwilling to leave – but could their presence turn out to be an unlikely blessing in disguise?
This is a likeable fable, reminiscent of the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer - although perhaps the most appealing part is the way in which it portrays its Orthodox characters. While religion plays an inevitably important part in the story, it's never allowed to take over completely, and thus we're treated to the sight of member of this tight knit, religious community, going about their everyday lives – something which has rarely been seen in previous films about ultra-Orthodox communities.
Throw in appealing performances from the two leads – the onscreen relationship between Moshe and Malli is genuinely sweet and touching – and some nicely timed, gently comic moments, and the result is a real pleasure to watch. It might have been made by more religious members of the Jewish community – but you don't necessarily have to be ultra-Orthodox to enjoy it.
Ushpizin (Cert PG) is released at cinemas from March 17