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BROKEN WINGS (K’Nafayim Shvurot)(director/writer: Nir Bergman; cinematographer: Valentin Belonogov; editor: Einat Glazer-Zarhin; music: Avi Belleli; cast: Orli Zilbershatz-Banai (Dafna Ulman), Maya Maron (Maya), Nitai Gvirtz (Yair), Daniel Magon (Ido), Eliana Magon (Bahr), Vladimir Freedman ( Dr. Valentin Goldman), Nimrod Cohen (Gaga), Yarden Bar-Kochba (Flora, School Counselor); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Assaf Amir; Sony Pictures Classics; 2002-Israel-in Hebrew with English subtitles)
A compelling family drama.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Israeli writer-director Nir Bergman’s debut feature, “Broken Wings,” is a compelling family drama that in its straightforward quiet way chronicles the story of a Haifa family spinning out of control from the father’s accidental death nine months earlier due to his allergic reaction to a bee-sting. Bergman avoids anything political, not a word about the Palestinian situation, choosing instead to tell of universal family problems–a mother’s great love, the hardships of being a single parent and a coming of age story. It’s a small but subtle drama lacking anything more ambitious than to tell this grieving dysfunctional family’s story as it is without any embellishments. It succeeds by staying focused on the family’s pressing economic and personal problems. The result is a telling, realistic and intimate portrait of a family which stopped connecting. All the characters are fully developed and clearly presented, and are worth caring about. It has won awards at film festivals around the world, including the Toronto and Berlin Festivals.

The unsmiling and overworked 43-year-old mother, Dafna Ulman (Orli Zilbershatz-Banai), is a nervous wreck, who spends any free time in bed unable to cope with her sudden loss. She works long hours in the local hospital as a midwife, where she’s called in on emergencies and often has to work the night shift. Her frequent absence from the house makes her the undeserving recipient of her children’s anger. The 17-year-old Maya (Maya Maron), an aspiring pop band singer-songwriter, is the oldest child. She’s upset that her mother called her home from an eagerly anticipated singing contest to baby-sit her younger siblings, 6-year-old sister Bahr (Eliana Magon) and the 11-year-old brother Ido (Daniel Magon). Maya finds it unfair that she has to carry the load to look after the children but reluctantly rides back on her bike, still costumed in her winged stage outfit. Her irresponsible 16-year-old brother, high school dropout Yair (Nitai Gvirtz), can’t be located because he is riding the subway and roaming around town handing out advertising flyers while costumed as a mouse for his menial job.

The next morning is the first day of school after the summer vacation, and it’s Bahr’s first day in kindergarten; but, since mom is still not home she refuses to go to school without her. The family situation is in need of more than mother’s unconditional love to see that the children are properly cared for, as the action swings back and forth between the hospital to the home to the children attending school. Yair meets with the school counselor and after speaking morosely in nihilist riddles is informed he can’t return to school unless he gets psychological help. Maya arrives late for class after dropping off Bahr, and is still fuming about last night so that she immaturely gets sidetracked and forgets to pick up Bahr after school. This neglect of duty leads to a near-fatal tragedy, as Ido is the only one home and is called to walk his sister home. Ido, a surly youngster, who was earlier in the day bullied by the school rowdies, gets Bahr to photograph him jumping off the high diving board into an empty pool to prove his manhood. As a result, Ido is lying in a coma in the hospital and the beleaguered mother is in a daze over Ido’s self-destructive act blaming herself for being a bad mother.

Orli Zilbershatz-Banai is a prominent Israeli stage actress, who gives a sincere and heartfelt performance where she’s unafraid to be without makeup or bare her soul or to perform without guile. When she smiles, the screen lights up with her warmth. Her truest smile comes only in the final act and indicates that life is tough in modern Israel for everyone, but her life has been made more difficult because there’s no breadwinner and she has to assume that role and still be a mother. The pivotal relationship between mother and daughter is key to the narrative, as the tension between the two becomes more understandable as the story unfolds and we learn that the daughter is still burdened with guilt-feelings over her part in her father’s death. Their faces express their pains and frustrations and disappointment with life, but both women grow up during the course of their conflict and struggle with their fears and yearnings to live for another day. A tragedy has separated them, but now another tragedy acts to bring them together again.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”