Language: Yiddish, Hebrew
Run Time: 120 Min.
Festival Program: Main Competition
Avishai Sivan’s bleak black and white portrait Tikkun follows Haim-Aaron, a young Hasidic Jew struggling with his faith after his father (who, ironically, is a kosher butcher) resuscitates him back to life following a surprise accident. This event alters the course of both men’s worldview as Haim-Aaron becomes disconnected from his strict religious studies. Once he would profusely kiss his prayer book if it fell on the floor, and now he struggles to stay awake in Yeshiva (Hasidic Jewish school). He begins to venture off in the night to hitchhike with whomever, wherever. The father, wrestling with the guilt that perhaps he has intercepted God’s plans, begins experiencing nightmares of crocodiles jumping out of the toilet and dreaming of putting a knife in his son’s back.
The film, which took top honors at the 32nd Jerusalem Film Festival, also proved an arduous task for the director, who while filming on location in Jerusalem was met with backlash from the Hasidic community, had to move locations from a Yeshiva who promised to make their shoot a living hell. The director also could not get actors to answer the casting call, prompting him to use a non-actor as the main protagonist. While the role doesn’t require a tremendous amount of acting (the cinematography and visual symbolism tell a lot of the story), the acting at times feels clunky and the motivations of the protagonist unclear, even a bit awkward. The screening I attended warranted a few quiet laughs from the audience in places I’m sure it wasn’t intended.
Sivan, who also is a painter, is very interested in displaying characterization and thematic content through abstract images. Many interior shots of the family’s home focus on the blank spaces, the lack of sunlight and obviously lack of color based on the choice to shoot in black and white. The protagonist Haim-Aaron is rarely the center of the frame; Sivan instead opts for high-angle and extreme-long shots to portray his sense of alienation and identity crisis.
What this amounts to, upon a first viewing, is a profoundly challenging experience. The overall vision of the film is daring, but at two hours feels highly tedious up until the final scenes, culminating in a climax that will leave viewers with explicit, close-up depictions of what happens when Haim-Aaron’s sexual repression reaches its tragic conclusion. The disturbing final scenes feel unwarranted from the pacing early in the film, bordering on grotesque shock-value, and will absolutely be a polarizing talking point when the film is released (Kino Lorber acquired the U.S. rights, and have not announced a release date as of yet).
Ultimately, audiences will leave Tikkun having to pick their jaws off the theater floor. This is a reaction nonetheless, and arguably a higher goal for a work of art than simply regurgitating a genre formula to null effect. At times, the formal elements are striking and absolutely beautiful, but with an entirely too long runtime and an undeserved, shock-value like ending, Tikkun obviously won’t be a pleasurable film-going experience. But unfortunately, the thematic goal of subverting religious radicalism is met long before the film ventures on for too long before heading into parody and snuff territory.