Ushpizin, in Hebrew with English subtitles, makes ultra-orthodox life in Israel accessible to the most secular on-looker on a scant budget.
This good-natured comedy, with its title denoting "holy guests", is positioned at the time of week-long Jewish holiday/festival Sukkot/Succoth.
Being in a very conservative Jerusalem area, there is an embracing of the orthodox life that director Giddi Dar stages in a feel-good, if sometimes sitcom way. This intimate viewpoint is highlighted through the efforts of writer-lead actor Shuli Rand, who left the secular behind in real life.
Here, Rand is Moshe, and Michal Bat-Sheva (Rand's actual spouse) is his loving, chubby wife Mali. There hapless existence, "a lump of sadness", includes not only meek finances, but without children.
However, a blessing occurs when an unused succah (shed-like temporary dwelling) becomes available and reconstructed to celebrate the Exodus after they receive a yeshiva charity fund anonymously slipped under the door of their walk-up flat.
The reminder of exile and hope during the holiday appears to be more special as guests appear. They happen to be connected to Moshe, one, his friend Eliahu (Shaul Mizrahi) from his earlier secular childhood, and the other his friend Yosef (ilan Ganani).
The unscrupulous motives of convicts-on-the-lam Eliahu and Yosef provide what becomes the central conflict in Ushpizin, as they are highly skeptical of Moshe's new religious ways. This religious life isn't seriously examined, and some may feel unsure of what the holiday is all about and the importance of the citrus, perhaps beyond the joy of receiving a baby boy.
Nevertheless, this story of a miracle in Jerusalem, aside from its religious dimension and being tidy in its conclusion, has genuine warmth and wit emerging from a cultural holistic approach. The modest look befits the production values, but Dar and Rand make the unique collaboration maudlin, yet ingratiating and manipulative, but in a positive manner. The viewer feels like a welcome guest in getting to know people like Moshe and Mali in a remote community where subterfuge and generosity credibly exist.