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Broken Wings

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/23/05 14:30:09

"An emotional punch to the throat."
5 stars (Awesome)

The young girl sits alone on a stoop, watching as a father strolls by with daughter perched on his shoulders. Without saying a word, we know that the girl, even at such a young age, knows that she will never again get to share such an experience, and it’s tearing her up inside.

The film is “Broken Wings,” a magnificent portrait of heartbreak and healing that deals with one family’s struggles to return to normal life following the death of the father. The film takes place in Israel but is in reality a universal story - these are people just managing to get by, fighting over babysitting duties, complaining about the broken down car. This could be your family.

The movie, written and directed by Nir Bergman, is a meticulous study of the later stages of grief. Recent films like “Moonlight Mile” show us the immediate response; “Broken Wings” opens its story nine months after the father’s death, showing us that while time may heal all wounds, it usually sure takes a long damn while to do so.

The characters. Dafna (Orly Silbersatz Banai) is the mother, a woman who initially dealt with the loss by refusing to get out of bed for months. Now she can make her way to work - she works as a midwife at the local hospital - but has no energy for anything else, including being a mother to her youngest children. She still wants to hide away through sleep. Not even the prospect of a new romance, in the form of a friendly new doctor (Vladimir Friedman), can shake her spirits.

Maya (Maya Maron) is the oldest daughter, a talents signer and songwriter who is, to her dismay, always forced to leave her bandmates behind. They’re on the verge of a recording contract, yet Maya’s role of surrogate mother to her siblings forces her out. This, of course, creates tension at home as well, and expect to see the typical teenage daughter “I hate yous” spat at her mother.

Yair (Nitai Gaviratz), the oldest brother, has taken things the worst: he’s resigned himself to a life of extreme nihilism, refusing to help with family matters because “nothing you do really has any meaning.” The emotional scars run deep with this one, a fact even obvious to the high school, which refuses to readmit him unless he seeks counseling first.

The youngest brother, Ido (Daniel Magon), vents his rage more privately, spending his hours in an abandoned swimming pool, continuously trying to videotape himself jumping into the deep end. And the youngest sister, Bahr (Daniel’s real-life sister, Eliana Magon), finds herself continuously neglected, and right as she’s starting kindergarten. Both children are showing signs of growing up too quickly, a bitterness setting in at far too young an age.

All of this may make “Broken Wings” seem like the ultimate downer, and while it’s no happy fun time parade, it does offer glimmers of hope among the sorrow. Usually the hope is bittersweet, as in the scene where Maya and Yair finally open up to each other, understanding that no matter how painful things may feel, “it could be worse.”

Bergman uses this story to showcase a deep understanding of how families click in times of crisis, and of how pain can surface in so many different ways. I marvel at Bergman’s directorial choices, the little touches that bring out the most from the cast and the characters. Consider, for example, the scene in which Maya finally records the song she wrote about her father; we cut between what the producers hear, with all the reverb and other added production effects, and what Maya hears, the raw, a cappella version filled with tears. It’s the most powerful moment in a movie comprised almost entirely of powerful moments.

Maron, by the way, does her own singing, and her performance is completely shattering, the innocence of youth lost forever to grief and annoyance and fear. Banai is equally skilled at getting the most out of her character, a mother paralyzed with sorrow; when the two actresses play off each other, the screen crackles with one of the finest mother-daughter interactions in recent memory. (There is, in fact, not a single sour note from the entire cast, but - and this is not to slight anyone else - Maron and Banai are downright incredible and worthy of the most attention.)

What we have in “Broken Wings” is the simple story so elegant in its telling that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the lives of this family. This is a drama that grips and never lets go. We feel every ounce of the characters’ heartbreak, fear, and, ever so briefly, hope. Bergman has crafted a wonderful film rich in detail. It’s the best family portrait since “Yi Yi,” and I beg you to go out of your way to find it.

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