'Tikkun': Film Review

Tikkun Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MOMA
An impressionistic film stronger on style than substance.

A young Hasidic yeshiva student undergoes a dramatic personality change after a near-death experience in Avishai Sivan's Israeli drama.

A young Hasidic yeshiva student undergoes a spiritual crisis after a near-death experience in Tikkun, Avishai Sivan's moody drama recently featured at New Directors/New Films. Visually stunning if dramatically logy and willfully enigmatic, Tikkun is the sort of film that makes waves on the festival circuit — it's already won prizes at the Jerusalem and Locarno fests — while leaving mainstream audiences mostly dazed and confused. Still, the pic, which will receive a theatrical release this summer via Kino Lorber, is impressively imaginative and stylish enough to mark its writer/director as a talent to watch.

Aharon Traitel, a former Hasid and non-professional actor making a striking film debut, plays the lead role of Haim-Aron, a young man devoted to his religious studies to the exclusion of everything else, frequently fasting and suffering from insomnia. One day while taking a shower — and seemingly testing his sexual self-discipline — he suffers a fall and is rendered unconscious. After spending 40 minutes attempting to revive him, paramedics declare him dead, but his father (Khalifa Natour) refuses to accept their verdict and within moments miraculously brings his son back to life.

After his resuscitation, Haim-Aron seems to be a new man. He suddenly announces that he will no longer be eating meat, much to the consternation of his butcher father. He begins slacking off in his studies, even falling asleep in class. And most strikingly, he seems to have experienced a sexual awakening, to the point of even visiting a prostitute, although he's ultimately more interested in chatting with her than availing himself of her services.

The slow-paced film occasionally veers into surreal territory, most notably with the father — who worries that his son's aberrant behavior is a manifestation of God's displeasure about having His plans for Haim-Aron's death thwarted — experiencing such visions as stabbing his son in the back and an alligator crawling out of his toilet bowl. The proceedings become even more disturbing toward the end, particularly in a scene, from which even the likes of David Cronenberg would recoil, involving the graphic depiction of Haim-Aron digitally violating the nude body of a deceased female accident victim.

Strikingly photographed in high contrast black-and-white, Tikkun — the title is a Hebrew word meaning "fixing/rectification" — is impressionistic rather than coherent, more interested in establishing an ominous mood, albeit one leavened by sly doses of dark humor, than making its themes of religion versus secularity understandable. But it's certainly not a movie that can be easily forgotten.

Venue: New Directors/New Films
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Production: The Mouth Agape, Plan B Productions
Cast: Aharon Traitel, Khalifa Natour, Riki Blich, Gur Sheinberg, Omri Fuhrer, Dani Kedem, Shani Ben Haim
Director-screenwriter: Avishai Sivan
Producers: Ronen Ben-Tal, Avishai Sivan, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery
Director of photography: Shai Goldman
Editors: Nili Feller, Avishai Sivan
Costume designer: Malky Fogel
Casting: Bar Hadas

Not rated, 121 minutes