Moshe, a former criminal who recently turned Orthodox Jew, and his wife, Mali, discover how genuine religious practices and true devotion can dramatically change their lives for the better.
Ushpizin ('The Guests') claims to be the first film to go inside the orthodox Heredi community in Jerusalem. Sounds pretty heavy right? Wrong' In fact it is a light film about a man who has his faith sorely tested when some uninvited guests come to stay. It is the eve of the Succoth (an orthodox Jewish holiday), and religious couple Moshe (veteran Israeli film and theatre actor Shalom 'Shuli' Rand), and his wife Mali, (actress Michal Bat Sheva Rand, also his real-life wife), have run out of money. Things are looking grim for this traditional celebration of their faith. Moshe however remains optimistic praying like blazes to God for a miracle, as does Mali who takes a more realistic approach. While she earnestly asks God to help them she feels their prospects of celebrating the Succoth - which involves erecting a temporary house and feasting for seven days with friends and/or family ' are fairly slim. The elusive miracle appears to be granted when $1000 is mysteriously ' and randomly - slipped under their door. But it comes at a price. Eliahu (Shaul Mizrahi) and Yosef (Ilan Ganani), two of Moshe's buddies from his shady past rock up on the doorstep, uninvited. Less than gracious in character ' and downright dodgy ' they threaten his modest little paradise by taking advantage of the couple's generosity and outstaying their welcome. The uptight neighbours are none too pleased, but the film makes a point of never being so judgemental about its characters, orthodox or otherwise. The great thing about Ushpizin is that you don't have to be Jewish or religious to appreciate it. It is a simple film but hard not to like, and like many films from the region (think Iran, Turkey), observes how it is the simple things in life which can mean the most to those without (something films from the contemporary, materialist, 'me generation' West have a hard time genuinely achieving). The meaning's in the details: Ushpizin begins with Moshe admiring a lemon ('citron'), a fruit of particular significance to his holy day, yet he knows he cannot afford it. When his non-religious 'guests' dismiss it as a crappy lemon, the true gist of the film kicks in. Just when you think things are getting sentimental or a bit hokey, a nice little twist pops up to keep things entertaining and contemporary. Devout Jewish actor Shalom Rand and secular director Gidi Dar (Shine) workshopped Ushpizin's script to make it an authentic tale about how it is possible for ordinary people to integrate faith into their everyday lives. And to retain some sense of individual identity within a faith that often demands conformity, a nice touch (While good orthodox Jews, next to their devout neighbours Moshe and Mali are downright emotional, firey, anarchic even, such is the nature of their hard-fought relationship. They certainly don't take each other, their faith or their lives for granted). The results are sweet and funny and less conservative than you might expect. Who knew?! It seems God might have a sense of humour after all'