Short Takes: Tikkun

(Avishai Sivan, Israel, 2015)

The title of Avishai Sivan’s new film derives from the Hebrew word for “fixing,” but its tale is one of fractured things growing ever more broken. Haim-Aron (Aharon Traitel), a yeshiva student whose theological devotion is absolute, survives a near-death experience thanks to intervention from his father, a kosher butcher. Suddenly his eyesight has improved to the point of not needing glasses, but his views of community and spirituality have become a blur. Where once he fasted and sequestered himself in the library, he now hitchhikes to Tel Aviv nightly to mingle with seculars and prostitutes, while his father is plagued by visions of alligators in the plumbing, condemning him for obstructing God’s will.

With startling high-def black-and-white photography by Shai Goldman, the film draws on Dreyer’s Ordet and Aronofsky’s π in a portrayal of spiritual fallout with horror elements. Sivan is wise to resist simple “renunciation of faith” narratives, achieving something more elliptical and unmooring, though the austerity and scarceness of dialogue can grow oppressive (adhering to the notion that sober, rigorous filmmaking must also be airless).

Traitel, a former Hasid making his film debut, embraces the enigmatic dimensions of his role with unwavering commitment. Khalifa Natour provides counterpoint as his father, a moderate man tasked with extinguishing life in ways ordained by his faith, now torn asunder for having acted to spare a life.