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Tikkun

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Tikkun

Directed by Avishai Sivan

  • Israel 2015; 120 min
  • Original version: Yiddish, Hebrew
  • Genre: Drama
    • Best Israeli Feature Film, Best Script, Best Cinematography, Best Actor (Khalifa Natour) - Jerusalem FF
    • Special Jury Prize, Special Mention Best Cinematography (Shai Goldman), FICC / IFFS Don Quijote Prize - FF Locarno
    • Best Director of Photography - Seminci
    • Special Mention - Singapore IFF
    • Special Jury Prize - Cinémamed
    • Best Director - Transilvania IFF

  • From the director of LOT'S WIFE presented at CineMart

Synopsis

Haim-Aaron is a bright, Ultra-Orthodox religious scholar living in Jerusalem. His talents and devotion are envied by all. One evening, following a self-imposed fast, Haim-Aaron collapses and loses consciousness. The paramedics announce his death, but his father takes over resuscitation efforts and, beyond all expectations, Haim-Aaron comes back to life. After the accident, try as he might, Haim-Aaron remains apathetic to his studies. He feels overwhelmed by a sudden awakening of his body and suspects this is God testing him. He wonders if he should stray from the prescribed path and find a way to rekindle his faith. The father notices his son’s changed behavior and tries to forgive him. He is tormented by the fear of having crossed God’s will, the night he resuscitated his son.

Director's Statement

In everyday Hebrew, the word ‘Tikkun’ means improvement or rectification, However, the term ‘Tikkun’ has a more metaphysical meaning in Judaism. The Jewish faith supports the idea of reincarnation – the belief in a soul’s cycle or return to the world after biological death. ‘Tikkun’ refers to a soul returning to the living world in order to rectify an unresolved issue from its past life; to redeem itself before transitioning to the next world.

I started writing TIKKUN immediately after the premiere of my first feature film, THE WANDERER, at Cannes Film Festival 2010. Within a month I had written a treatment that was accepted to Torino Film Lab. I had no doubt that my next film would also be set in the Jewish Ultra Orthodox world. Even before I shot THE WANDERER, my vision was to create a trilogy based on a yeshiva scholar and his crisis of faith. Hence I was already mulling over the central themes of TIKKUN, back when I wrote THE WANDERER. Like the treatment, I wrote the first draft of the script extremely quickly. I always describe the relationship between THE WANDERER and TIKKUN as an escalation: The film TIKKUN is more extreme in every respect, from the technicalities of shooting in black and white, to its focus on the regimented lives of the Ultra-Orthodox. The protagonist, Haim-Aaron lives in Me'a She'arim, one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. For the Hasidic population, life in Me'a She'arim - close to the site of the Holy Temple - is in itself holy. Haim-Aaron is a student in yeshiva (religious college). He is regarded as an ‘illui’ or prodigy, a rare distinction given to yeshiva students for their extraordinary intelligence and insight. An illui is likely to become an important Rabbi or community leader. TIKKUN is a story of life and death, set in a closed society with rigid, clear-cut rules. At the start of the film, the lead character is an outstanding member of his community. Later, he starts questioning its religious rules, driven by an urgent need to challenge and deepen his faith.

The casting process lasted a year and a half, due to the enormous challenge of finding the lead actor. I met with many talented actors but something was always lacking. The more I researched, the more I wondered how I would manage to bring a non-religious, professional actor anywhere close to the specific mannerisms and dialect of a devout Hasidic Jew. Eventually we scouted ex-yeshiva scholars who had left religion. We tried teaching them basic acting techniques in the hope of discovering natural talent. Aharon Traitel, a former Hasidic Jew, responded to our casting advert and after the first few auditions I remained unsure about him. Then, unlike the other candidates, Aharon started suggesting script amendments and guided me in my research on Ultra Orthodox Jews. He also translated the relevant scenes to Yiddish. He had a hidden charm that I needed to surface and trust in order for him to take on the main role. It was a risk worth taking as, over time, Aharon became deeply entrenched in the project and came to understand all the minutia of the story.

As a director, my most valuable document is my shooting script, which I write alone. I need this kind of intimacy so I can write freely and unhampered, imagining the film down to the last detail. For me, this is a lengthy process, longer than scriptwriting, after which I embellish the script and the direction. In addition, when writing the shooting script, I usually scout potential locations. The first person I consult is my cinematographer, Shai Goldman, who, with his rich experience, is the person to fine tune the shooting script, ahead of filming. TIKKUN had a scheduled 433 shots, 195 scenes, spread over 21 shooting days.

Production

  • THE MOUTH AGAPE

    Avishai Sivan