Trembling Before God? Tikkun

tikkun

Tikkun
Directed by Avishai Sivan
Opens June 10

Static cameras, long takes and sparse dialogue are today shorthand for a particular kind of “serious” arthouse cinema. From talented veterans like Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl to curious newcomers like Amat Escalante and more forgettable voices, the style lends itself to descriptors such as “punishing,” “austere,” and “clinical.” The underlying assumption of this style is that the world is a cruel and Godless place, one where observation is possible but intervention is not. It is necessary to note, then, that Avishai Sivan, who augments the aesthetic’s starkness with black-and-white cinematography, makes that presupposed Godlessness the very subject of Tikkun, his Jerusalem-set character study of an agnostic Yeshiva student whose life is interrupted by a series of Surrealist happenings at odds with the film’s rigid aesthetic.

Haim-Aaron (Aharon Traitel) is something of a model student, except for the fact that he does not really believe. His unchecked sexual desire compounds that crisis of faith, and one evening a combination of that unmanaged sex drive and a self-imposed fast seems to turn his house against him. Starting the water on a shower that might tame his erection, Haim-Aaron is perplexed to find the stream stopping on its own accord. As soon as he tests the faucets to no avail, they begin dripping suspiciously, and then the showerhead erupts with a steaming torrent that knocks him down. The medics fail to revive him and call for an officer to declare the death, but just then, he shows signs of life.

A miracle? Or was the incident itself a message from God? Those twin possibilities haunt Haim-Aaron, who nevertheless is unable to reconcile his contrition and his skepticism, leading him to skip classes and meddle with prostitutes amidst encounters with an alligator that crawls up his toilet to deliver God’s word. These blasphemous episodes contrast with depictions of Orthodox lifestyle, from the slaughter of kosher meat to Haim-Aaron’s repeated visits to the Mikveh—attempts to wash away his guilt—as well as an examination of a family life defined by politeness but lacking real intimacy.

They also, in postulating proximity of sex and death and in their fixation on the grotesque and its relationship to the erotic, veer toward Surrealism, a mode apparently antipathetic to the film’s arthouse realist approach. On one hand, several events, from the initial fall to a climactic incident, seemingly in response to a particularly sinful occurrence that the camera scrutinizes, pose the question of God’s continued presence; simultaneously, they blaspheme with such calculation and are telegraphed with such precision that the idea of God’s presence becomes laughable. Even the climactic retribution comes with enough dramatic irony to undercut the possibility of divine intervention.

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