Tikkun: Prize Winning Israeli Film from Avishai Sivan

tikkun_6One of the best and most provocative films to have come out of Israel in recent memory--and there have been quite many good ones–Tikkun, written and directed by Avishai Sivan, tells the mesmerizing story of Haim-Aaron, a Jewish Orthodox religious scholar.

When Haim-Aaron faces a near-death experience, he goes through a deep personal crisis, an awakening process that forces him to question his very existence and his purpose in this world.

tikkun_5An original and provocative film, Tikkun won top honors at the 32nd Jerusalem Fest, before bowing at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Fest, where it also won major awards.

Sivan told Variety that several “real-life incidents triggered the idea.  One was reading a newspaper article about a man who came back to life after 40 minutes of clinical death. The other was hearing a car accident take place on my street at night. That night I heard the accident victims shouting for help in my dreams.”

Sivan started mulling over these ideas as bookends to a screen narrative, in which the above incidents became major acts in the final film.

tikkun_4The casting process lasted over a year due to the enormous challenge of finding the lead actor.  Sivan said that he he 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 close to the specific mannerisms and dialect of a devout Hasidic Jew.”

Eventually, we scouted ex-yeshiva scholars who had left religion altogether.  As he reaclled: 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.”

tikkun_3Sivan 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 director, he then made a bold decision and cast a Palestinian Muslim as Haim-Aaron’s father (an Ultra Orthodox Jew of Eastern European descent). He says: “Khalifa is an astonishing actor, who gave an exceptional audition and was consistently professional during filming and taught me alot. Khalifa studied Yiddish and visited Ultra-Orthodox communities in order to carry out his meticulous research. His physical transformation was so dramatic that nowadays, after screenings, often no one recognizes him as the actor who plays Haim-Aaron’s father. So his misses out on his moment of glory.

tikkun_2Sivan admits that has no personal connection to religion: “I like the fact that I’m not linked to these communities and that I’ve no emotional ties to them. My approach is more theoretical as an observer-storyteller. This way, I can be more daring than an  ‘insider.’  My treatment is more philosophical and cinematic than sociological.

From Plastic Artist to Director

tikkun_1There is, however, a personal parallel drawn from his other life as a plastic artist: “My process of painting or making video-art is similar to the Yeshiva student’s in his quest for the sublime. You’ll find this element in each of the main characters in my ‘religion’ trilogy.”

For the future, Sivan told Variety that he plans to make a spy thriller, based on an Israeli novel The Smell of Blue Light by Nir Hezroni, which will be published in English in Spring 2016. “This is a whole new genre for me and I’m very excited to do something so different in pace and scale.”