Cast: Aharon Traitel, Khalifa Natour, Riki Blich, Gur Sheinberg
Director: Avishai Sivan
Running time: 2 hours
by Jericho Cerrona
The notion of carnal desire as spiritual death is central to many religious systems, and this is especially true of fundamental Judaism; wherein ritual, tradition, and civic responsibilities are at odds with the temptations of secularized society. Avishai Sivan's hauntingly enigmatic second feature, Tikkun, may be set in contemporary Israel, but it feels like it's taking place in some past memory, or perhaps more appropriately, inside that place where the divine and finite meet. In some ways, the film is both a detached critique of strict Hasidic Judaism as well an ambiguous distillation of the mysteries of faith and intellect. Above all, Tikkun is that rare film which completely immerses the viewer inside it's strange tonal grasp while never fully allowing one to grow accustom to it's elusive rhythms.
Haim-Aaron (first time actor Aharon Traitel) is an Orthodox yeshiva student who spends all of his time dutifully studying the Torah, enduring sleepless nights at his desk, and fasting in repentance after the slightest infraction. After seeing an attractive woman in passing one day, he finds himself physically aroused while taking a shower; a sequence which Sivan plays out in an extended long shot. The young man seems baffled by the sight of his own erect penis before being knocked over by a full blast of hot water, leading to his eventual death. His panic-stricken mother (Riki Blich) calls the paramedics, who spend 40 minutes trying to revive him before he's resurrected by his kosher butcher father (Khalifa Natour). This near-death experience sets in motion a series of changes within Haim-Aaron upon his recovery; including sleeping during the day while taking long walks at night, being able to see without his glasses, refusing to eat meat, and being drawn to fulfilling his sexual desires.
Shot in gorgeous black-and-white with ominous sound design and disorienting stretches of dream logic, Tikkun draws on the power of contradictory elements. Both male and female genitalia are captured in long takes without judgement or titillation, and a scene set at a brothel where Haim-Aaaron attempts to get to know a prostitute before she tosses him out in annoyance reveals Sivan's interest in how fundamental communities create stunted views of human sexuality. On the other hand, Haim-Aaaron remains a cipher; a seemingly pious man struggling with his faith and these newfound bodily urges, which eradicates the audience's indictment of religion as the sole problem. Crucially, Tikkun is not necessarily dismissing Orthodox Judaism full stop, but rather, simply presenting the outcome of suppressing our natural desires when placed inside a certain context.
Languidly paced with sparse dialogue and little in the way of authorial hand-holding, Sivan's picture will likely be praised and criticized accordingly based on one's patience with this kind of detached aesthetic. It's the kind of film which lingers in the mind; flowing at its own mysterious and uncompromising pace, and it's tough to deny the director's gifts at combining Kafka-esque black comedy with the threat of violence (both divine and human), seen most vividly in several dream sequences involving attacking alligators and knife attacks which play like ambient horror montages. No matter what allegorical connections are ultimately formed about the link between sexuality, death, faith, and fundamentalism, there's something about Tikkun which hangs just outside our ability to grasp-- kind of like religious mysticism itself--encouraging us to look deeper and think differently.