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New Line Home Cinema presents
Ushpizin (2004)

Mali: I feel awful about the way I treated our guests. I don't know what came over me.
Moshe: You treated them just fine. They weren't too nice themselves.
Mali: That's just it. It's clear as day that it was a test. Some test it would have been if they were nice guests.

- Shuli Rand, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: April 03, 2006

Stars: Shuli Rand, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand
Other Stars: Shaul Mizrahi, Ilan Ganani
Director: Gidi Dar

MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements
Run Time: 01h:32m:22s
Release Date: April 04, 2006
UPC: 794043102356
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B-B- D-

DVD Review

When Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, God compelled them to live in temporary buildings called Sukkot. As a reminder of the miracles that occurred during the exodus from slavery, Jews are commanded each year to leave their homes and live in a sukkah for seven days—cooking, eating, and sleeping in these huts. It is considered a blessing to host ushpizin (the Aramaic word for guests) during the Festival of Sukkot. Some Jews still celebrate this holiday, and its observance in an Orthodox community in Jerusalem is the basis for Ushpizin, which won the best picture award from Israeli critics in 2004.

Moshe (Shuli Rand, who also wrote the screenplay), a rabbi, and his wife Mali (Rand's wife, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand) need a miracle. They are in debt and have no money for food, let alone the cash they'll need to build a sukkah for the upcoming holiday. Their prayers are suddenly answered when a friend offers a slightly used sukkah and an envelope filled with $1,000 is shoved under their door, extra money from the local temple. But God may simply be setting the couple up for their real test of faith, as two escaped convicts, Eliyah (Shaul Mizrahi) and Yossef (Ilan Ganani), show up to take advantage of their holiday hospitality.

Eliyah is a rough character who knows Moshe from way back, and doesn't buy his religious convert routine—in the old days, he tells Yossef, the whole town feared Moshe's violent temper. The guests certainly test their hosts, eating all of their food and disrespecting the neighbors in the quiet, religious community. Moshe and Mali face other obstacles, too—they have been married for years but have no children, a great strain on their relationship. Moshe even spends more than a little of their precious cash (1,000 shekels, around $212 USD) on the most beautiful citron in the city (at the shop, they refer to it as "the diamond"), a blessing for having sons.

Rand was a popular Israeli actor before he found God and retired from the business. He returned to make this film on two conditions: that he be cast alongside his real-life wife, and that filming would never take place on the Sabbath. His screenplay unapologetically examines the importance of faith, but the characters aren't perfect—Moshe and his wife struggle with giving themselves over to God, and come close to buckling under pressure when they don't have any money, or can't conceive a child, or have to deal with unexpected guests. In the end, of course, God does come through for them and everything works out, but the ordeals they face, and the inner strength they must find are also distinctly human.

The plot, such as it is, allows for few surprises, but director Gidi Dar lends it a palpable sense of realism. The characters and circumstances, alien as they may be to certain audiences, feel wholly genuine (the fact that the movie was shot on location in a real Orthodox community in Jerusalem is obviously a boon). Shuli Rand won an Israeli critic's award for his powerful, subtle performance (Moshe's continuing battle with demons of his past is never far from the surface), and his wife is equally moving as Mali, who often endures in silence.

Ushpizin is obviously a film with limited appeal, but those who take a chance on it are likely to walk away with some understanding of a way of life they otherwise know little about, and that's not something you can say about most movies.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Ushpizin is obviously a low-budget affair by Hollywood standards, and the DVD transfer shows it. Colors don't really pop—even bright hues are a bit dull. The image is soft and shows some grain. I didn't see any mastering problems like artifacting or edge enhancement, however.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Hebrew Stereono

Audio Transfer Review: Presented in the original Hebrew 2.0 stereo, Ushpizin sounds rather limited on DVD, but it isn't really an issue, as there's little to the film other than dialogue. Speech comes across clearly, and the music and background elements like crowd noise fill out the front soundstage. Surrounds are silent throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Thing About My Folks, The Sea Inside, The Agronomist, The Story of the Weeping Camel
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: No extras on this release, other than the trailer, which features some cheesy voiceover. There's also a menu screen with instructions on how to set up an "authorized" group screening for educational events, which was not included on the last New Line DVD I reviewed, Domino. Go figure.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Ushpizin is a small, warm-hearted film; the narrative follows some familiar patterns but provides a window to another world. This isn't the type of movie many people are likely to pick up, but it's a fascinating slice of life from halfway around the world, and worth watching.


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