Jerusalem Film Festival Review: TIKKUN

A surreal nightmare of devotion and the denial of God's plan.

The most fucked up movie about Hasidic Jews since Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, Tikkkun is a slow motion nightmare examination of the will of God, shot in stark and surreal black and white. Yeshiva student Haim-Aaron struggles with his ultra-Orthodox desire to worship God and his own body’s interests and needs until, standing in the shower with a boner (you get the full Hasidick here) he slips and hits his head and dies. Forty minutes of CPR is fruitless until his distraught father gets in on the chest compressions, and suddenly Haim-Aaron is back - but should he be? Did God intend for him to die that day?

Avishai Sivan’s film skirts the edges of the supernatural - Haim-Aaron discovers he no longer needs glasses after his resurrection, for instance, and his father has prophetic dreams involving an alligator bursting from a shit-filled toilet  - but prefers to keep those elements to the side, instead opting to examine the theological and personal fall-out of a rigidly devout man making a dent in God’s plan. Haim-Aaron returns from the dead with doubts and questions and a new perspective on life, one that leads him to hitchhike to Tel Aviv nightly, visit a prostitute, and eventually fingerbang a corpse in explicit and pornograpic detail.

Like I said, it’s fucked up.

Sivan’s vision leans towards the arthouse, and there are many passages in Tikkun that are completely slack (weirdly these come after a brisk opening, giving the film a sagging middle), but these slower, sometimes droning sequences are worth the wait to get to the surreal nightmare imagery that makes Tikkun one of the most strikingly weird movies I have seen this year. The movie’s examination of the life of the ultra-Orthodox Jews is fascinating and Sivan’s actors - who simply can’t really be Orthodox, can they? - are utterly convincing in all moments. The strong work extends from lead Aharon Traitel, playing Haim-Aaron as a man who is first focused to the point of obsession and then a man who is lost without his focus, to the young Gur Sheinberg, as Haim-Aaron’s bed-wetting little brother. Khalifa Natour gives a nuanced and increasingly ominous performance as Haim-Aaron’s father, a man who believed in stretching God’s rules right up until they snapped back in his face.

I don’t know that Tikkun wraps up as satisfactorily s you might like, but there’s an element of the capriciousness of the Old Testament Yaweh in the film’s destructive ending. Tikkun is a movie that opens with a man slaughtering a cow in the bloody kosher way, dedicating its death to the Master of the Universe, and it lets you know that same Master of the Universe will demand his sacrifice, in whatever form. But unlike the God who allowed Abraham to sub in a ram for his son, this God collects with interest.