This poignant film about an Israeli family rendered dysfunctional by the sudden death of the husband and father is a strongly emotional experience despite its tendency toward cryptic dramatics. With no mention of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, the film nonetheless resonates with a feeling of oppression and dislocation that living in a virtual war zone must generate.

This poignant film about an Israeli family rendered dysfunctional by the sudden death of the husband and father is a strongly emotional experience despite its tendency toward cryptic dramatics. Without any mention whatsoever of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, the film nonetheless resonates with a feeling of oppression and dislocation that living in a virtual war zone must generate. Sony Classics could rack up medium-level business with this Israeli Oscar selection, with strong ancillary possibilities.

Writer-director Nir Bergman’s feature debut effectively enters the world of a once close-knit Haifa family which has suffered a body blow. But the filmmaker’s decision to withhold, until close to the end of the film, the vital information as to how and why Ulman died may irritate some viewers; on the other hand, it could be argued these details don’t really matter. It’s enough the much-loved husband and father of four is dead and that his family can’t cope.

The widow, Dafna (Orli Zilberschatz-Banai) is 43 years old and a mess. Not only is she still deeply grieving nine months after her husband died, but there are money problems; so Dafna works as a midwife in a hospital, taking whatever shifts she is given. As a result, it often falls on her eldest child, 17-year-old Maya (Maya Maron), to act as surrogate mother to her youngest siblings, 11-year-old Ido (Daniel Magon) and 6-year-old Bahr (Eliana Magon); the latter is just starting school, and is fearful about it, while Ido tries to beat the world high jump record, leaping into an empty swimming pool, with fairly predictable results. The other member of the family, 16-year-old Yair (Nitai Gvirtz), has dropped out of school and found a job handing out leaflets on the street dressed in a mouse costume.

Maya yearns to be a singer. She has written a poignant song about her father, but, just as she’s about to perform it at a contest, she is called away by her mother who needs her to care for the younger children. Maya is resentful at losing this opportunity to perform.

As the members of this typical middle-class family attempt to resume more or less normal lives, events conspire to add to the pressure on them. Dafna’s unreliable car often refuses to start, Maya and Yair are both having relationship problems, Yair with Iris (Dana Ivgny), who is a similar type to his sister, and Maya with musician Yoram (Danny “Mooki” Niv.)

Bergman is very good at observing the minor details of everyday life which assume far greater significance because of the strain on the family. When Maya, involved with Yoram, forgets to pick-up little Bahr from school, it’s an incident which carries with it major ramifications. When, finally, the circumstances of Ulman’s death, and the reason Maya blames herself for it, are made clear, the characters can all be seen in a new light.

Zilberschatz-Banai is excellent as the careworn widow barely able to cope with life without her husband, but who gradually finds strength from her family, while Maya Maron gives an intelligent performance as the teenager who carries a huge burden of guilt and sadness.

Filmed on the location in Haifa and Tel Aviv, “Broken Wings” portrays an Israel very different from the images the world sees on the nightly news. The cities and streets, hospitals, schools and apartments we see could be anywhere in the world, and yet the knowledge of the reality of what life in Israel today must be like pervades the film with an ominous feeling of oppression.

Technical credits are all up to par.

Broken Wings

Israel

Production

A Sony Pictures Classics (in N. America) release of a Norma Prods. production produced with the support of the Israeli Film Fund, Israeli Fund for Film Prods., Yes-DBD Satellite Services. (International sales: Pathe Intl., London.) Produced by Assaf Amir. Executive producer, Yoav Roeh. Directed, written by Nir Bergman.

Crew

Camera (color), Valentin Belonogov; editor, Einat Glaser-Zarhin; music, Avi Belleli; production designer, Ido Dolev; costume designer, Ada Levin; sound (Dolby), David Lis. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 9, 2003. (Also in Palm Springs Film Festival.) Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Dafna Ulman - Orli Zilberschatz-Banai Maya Ulman - Maya Maron Yair Ulman - Nitai Gvirtz Dr. Valentin Goldman - Vladimir Friedman Iris - Dana Ivgy Yoram - Danny 'Mook' Niv Ido Ulman - Daniel Magon Bahr Ulman - Eliana Magon

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