on October 19, 2005 by Tim Cogshell
Moshe (Shuli Rand) is a big and big-hearted man. He and his wife Malli (Michal Bat-Sheva Rand) are devout orthodox Jews living in Israel. As the festival of Succoth approaches, they find themselves desperately poor, without even enough money to rent one of the temporary dwellings called succahs necessary to commemorate the Exodus, let alone the ceremonial spices required for blessings during the holiday: lulav (date-palm branches), aravos (willows) and, most importantly, esrog (citron), which assures the blessing of a male child -- their greatest wish.

Then they are given the gift of a thousand dollars by a local organization and find an abandoned succah. Without hesitation, Moshe buys the most exquisite esrog he can find and they pray for the blessing of a child. What they get instead are houseguests. As the holidays begin, two of Moshe's old associates, Eliyahu (Shaul Mizrahi) and Yossef (Ilan Ganani), recently escaped from prison, turn up for a visit instead. Moshe's acquaintances are rude and doubting of the sincerity of Moshe's religious transformation. Moshe and Malli find their hospitality tested, and come to question whether or not they are worthy of the blessing for which they have prayed.

"Ushpizn," which roughly translates to "holy guests," is a collaboration between filmmakers from the orthodox community and less religious Israeli Jews: The screenplay is by star Shuli Rand, an orthodox Jew, while director Gidi Dar is secular, and so on throughout the production. Like its cast and crew, the movie is intended to speak to the divergent communities of contemporary Israel and to explore what divides them as well as what binds them together.

"Ushpizn" is an unabashedly pandering film intended to incite fervor in the religiously inclined and stoke the embers of those less so. It's simple in its design, leaning lightly on Biblical stories, particularly that of Abraham and Sarah, and while it is as sentimental as a Bible story, it's genuinely touching and well done. Starring Shuli Rand, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand, Shaul Mizrahi and Ilan Ganani. Directed by Giddi Dar. Written by Shuli Rand. Produced by Rafi Bukai and Giddi Dar. A Picturehouse release. Drama. Hebrew-language; subtitled. Rated PG for mild thematic elements. Running time: 90 min

Tags: foreign, Hebrew, religion, Bible, Judaism, Exodus, prison, escape, prayer, Shuli Rand, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand, Shaul Mizrahi, Ilan Ganani, Giddi Dar

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