Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2016 4:56 pm 
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Another provocation for the Hasids

With Tikkun we have another movie focused on ultra-Orthodox Jews, this time a conceptual puzzler in black and white, without scored music, full of surreal elements and with shocking moments of sexuality including full frontal male nudity. What is the fascination of this community? Perhaps simply its remoteness from the lives of most people, which makes its practices seem surreal, or like an art piece. Filmmakers seem to delight in showing how its rules go wrong, as with the wife in the recent Mountain (ND/NF 2016), who is led to share cigarettes with whores in a cemetery on the Mount of Olives; or the two (male) butchers who fall in love in Eyes Wide Open, or the New York Hasidic boys who turn into drug mules in Holy Rollers.

But in Tikkun, which arouses admiration, puzzlement, and annoyance in viewers, means to present a dilemma -- though what the dilemma is, is left intentionally open-ended. A young man, Haim-Aaron (Aharon Traitel, an attractive non-professional who has a warm, appealing face), the eldest child of a kosher butcher (tall, long-bearded Khalifa Natour) and his wife (short, slight Riki Blich), seems confused and uneasy before his accident; he will seem more so thereafter. While fiddling with the shower, getting an erection, he slips and falls, knocking himself unconscious. Emergency medics give up on reviving him and decide to pronounce him dead, but Khalifa can't accept that, and, struggling to pump air back into Haim-Aaron's lungs, brings him back to life.

This is hailed as a fortunate event. But here's the rub: has Khalifa undermined the will of God, who seemed to have wanted Haim-Aaron dead? Or is it a "tikkun," in the sense of a fixing or rectification? A chance for Haim-Aaron to become a saintly, enlightened man, deeply appreciative of the gift of life? Perhaps it's an opportunity for Haim-Aaron to do good in the world.

Sometimes Tikkun, which is almost as sparing with dialogue as it is with music (of which there is none except for a celebratory Hasidic dance) makes use of mime and tableau, in a way that brings out the absurdity and oddity of the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle. Never more so than when ten men, all identical, with their dark long suits and beards and broad-brimmed hats, come to visit Haim-Aaron, standing over him and making him look tiny in his hospital bed, all exuding wordless identical goofy-chic.

In the event, Haim-Aaron seems far from "tikkun." He goes more haywire than before. He announces -- in the family of a successful butcher -- that because one must respect death (hasn't he returned from death, and in so doing, disrespected it?) he will no longer eat meat. He begins falling asleep at Yeshiva till he gets kicked out, unsleeping at home, hitchhiking and doing increasingly inappropriate things. It seems obvious that this twenty-something virgin is in search of sex, and a run-in with prostitutes, one of them grotesquely fat, follows.

Avishai Siwan, for whom this is the sophomore effort, and his cinematographer, Shai Goldman, and editors, Nili Feller and Sivan, continually roll out events in a mix of shots that is surprising, coy, and sly, as well as surreal and comic (while Khalifa's oddball dreams of lizards and toilets seem just a little vulgar). Unfortunately, Haim Aaron's adventures fall rather flat. Surreal mime is a storytelling method that's hard to sustain interestingly, or hard for them, anyway. The climax, which occurs in a fog surrounding a fatal car accident, and a bloody bed, somewhat counteracts this flatness. But Siwan's film seemed disappointing to me. Its puzzlements never come together. It's promise is not lived up to. Nonetheless, it has enough originality to attract the cinephile class. And there are small moments between Haim-Aaron and his little brother Yanke, (Gur Sheinberg) that add a touch of sweetness. Shots of the narrow streets of the ultra-religious Mea Shearim district of Old Jerusalem have an appealing claustrophobic oddity. We have seen such streets before -- in our dreams.

I can add little to the review of Tikkun by Dennis Harvey written at Mill Valley for Variety Oct. 2015 in which he describes the thought-provoking aspects of this film, which he not inaptly calls "willfully enigmatic."

Tikkun, 120 mins. debuted at Jerusalem 10 July 2015, followed by Locarno, awards at both venues, and showing at about a dozen other international festivals including Telluride, Vancouver, the Hamptons, Chicago, and Stockholm. Latterly included in New York's FSLC/MoMA-sponsored New Directors/New Films, where it was screened for this review. Limited release in Israel 3 Dec. 2015. Slated for US theatrical release 10 June 2016 (NYC) by Kino Lorber.

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