(photo credit: PR)
Directed by Avishai Sivan
With Aharon Traitel, Khalifa Natour, Riki Blich
Running time: 119 minutes
In Hebrew and Yiddish.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.
The film Tikkun is a strange and wonderful movie. It isn’t for everyone, but those who can appreciate it will likely never forget it. If Avishai Sivan’s latest film occasionally ventures into bizarre over-the-top scenes that shock viewers and derail the narrative, it doesn’t detract from the power of what has gone before.
The movie, which won the Haggiag Prize for Best Feature at the 2015 Jerusalem Film Festival and the Don Quixote Award at the Locarno International Film Festival, tells the story of the spiritual and emotional crisis of a Jerusalem yeshiva student after a near-death experience. Much like Ingmar Bergman’s devastating movie Through a Glass Darkly, it takes you deep into the hero’s disordered mind, which results in disturbing, frightening and, at times, repulsive images. Audiences need to be prepared for this. I saw the movie at a screening on Israel Cinema Day, with an audience of mostly modern Orthodox young people who, I imagine, had chosen this film based on its plot: a religious young man recovering from an injury and a coma. It wasn’t long before the walkouts began, and I soon found myself among just a handful of viewers left in the theater.
The basic story is that Haim-Aharon (Aharon Traitel) is a young adult from a Jerusalem ultra Orthodox family who takes his yeshiva studies so seriously, that he barely sleeps and eats. Knowing that his intensity goes further than what is acceptable in the yeshiva world, he tries to conceal the extent of this asceticism, although his fellow students and family suspect that all is not well with him. He is clearly disturbed by his own sexuality and seems to be starving himself as a way to control it. But after he becomes sexually aroused in the shower, he falls and hurts his head, entering a state of clinical death before the paramedics rouse him.
After that, he goes off the rails.
After the accident, Haim-Aharon’s disgust and attraction to flesh — his own body, the bodies of women, and the meat that his butcher father (Khalifa Natour) brings home from work — become greatly heightened.
He begins nocturnal wanderings all over Jerusalem and even ventures to the fleshpots of Tel Aviv, trying to free himself from the visions and desires that torment and attract him.
It’s a bleak and upsetting view of the world, seen through the eyes of an alienated and mentally ill young man. It’s also highly symbolic and overdetermined, with such touches as his father’s profession and the parallels between their life and the biblical Akeda story, when God orders Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his son.
The symbolism can be heavy handed, but cinematically it is very effective.
Part of that is due to Shai Goldman’s black-and-white cinematography.
Goldman’s work here is among the best that I have ever seen. The images are extraordinary, and they greatly enhance the power of the story with their meticulously composed ugliness and beauty.
Aharon Traitel, making his movie debut, is compelling as the withdrawn student, and Khalifa Natour is also convincing as his father.
For director Avishai Sivan, this movie represents a huge leap in quality from his similarly themed 2010 debut, The Wanderer.
Toward the end, as the film moves toward an upsetting climax, it begins to feel that Sivan is more intent on shocking us than on deepening our understanding of Haim-Aharon. It’s as if he didn’t know quite where all this was leading his hero, and he chose to fixate on images and scenes guaranteed to disturb rather than illuminate.
But Sivan takes his conceit very far, and with Tikkun he displays a great deal of talent. He has aimed high and succeeded in reaching most of his goals.