Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

Onscreen chemistry gets a lot of lip service, but it seems that’s usually just a euphemism for two incredibly hot actors looking incredibly hot together. Gidi Dar’s Ushpizin, by contrast, contains genuine chemistry and one of the warmest depictions of married life in quite some time. Moshe and Malli (real-life Orthodox couple Shuli Rand and Michal Bat Sheva Rand) live in an ultra-Orthodox enclave in Jerusalem where they are struggling with a lack of money and a lack of children. But Moshe is a man of faith, who believes that “if there is something someone doesn’t have, it is because he hasn’t prayed enough.” They are preparing to celebrate Succoth, the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt, for which each family builds a replica of a desert hut for eating and sleeping during the festival, welcoming family and guests (ushpizin) to join them. Moshe and Malli’s holiday takes an unexpected turn when two of Moshe’s secular friends “from the old days,” escaped criminals Yossef (Ilan Ganani) and Eliyahu (Shaul Mizrahi), arrive just as the festival begins. As the newcomers move from bumbling caricatures to genuinely scary, they end up testing the couple’s hospitality, patience, and faith. But Ushpizin is as much about the couple’s relationship with each other as it is about their relationships with God. In one scene, a distraught Moshe literally runs into the woods to scream for advice; in another, a tightly framed Malli first appears to be gushing over her husband, but as the camera pulls back it becomes clear she is actually declaring her love directly to God. This is one of many scenes stolen outright by Michal Rand and her effusive eyes. (She shines brightest when playing off her husband’s somber piety.) Shuli Rand’s Moshe radiates quiet wisdom throughout, though his old pals’ buffoonery eventually draws out some of the long-dormant hell-raiser of old. The film is sweet but not cloying, innocent without being naïve. But the most delicate balance on display is between the two leads, whose warmth and honesty shine brighter than 1,000 Brangelinas.

—Jason Powell