Broken Wings (Israel, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The death of a family member has often provided grist for filmmakers' mills, and the resulting productions, both good and bad, have dotted the cinematic landscape for years. Many of the highest profile of these - Ordinary People, In the Bedroom, Moonlight Mile - have focused on the impact of the loss of a child - how the associated grief and guilt can rip at the fabric of a seemingly impregnable marriage and cause surviving siblings to become sullen and withdrawn. Broken Wings, from first time Israeli director Nir Bergman, addresses this deeply painful subject from a different angle. This film is an autopsy of a family that has been sundered by the death of the father and primary care-giver.

Broken Wings opens nine months after the death of a middle-aged husband and father of four. His unexpected demise has left a trail of emotional wreckage in its wake. His wife, Dafna (Orly Silbersatz Banai), emerged from a three month state of near-catatonia to begin working every waking hour in an effort to make ends meet. Grief and economic necessity have transformed her into a terrible mother. She has no time for her children, and, even if she was to have it, she is so emotionally closed off that they couldn't reach her. The eldest daughter, Maya (Maya Maron), has been prematurely forced into the role of protector and nurturer because of her mother's state of mind. Resentment percolates within her. A teenager, she dreams of having a career in music, but her hopes are stymied by her need to care for her siblings. Yair (Nitai Gaviratz), only a year or two younger than Maya, has become distant and uncommunicative. Instead of studying and playing basketball, he has dropped out of school to take a menial job and ruminates on death and the meaninglessness of life. Ido (Daniel Magon) has reacted to his father's death by becoming surly and contemplating what would happen if he jumped off a diving board into an empty pool. And little Bahr (Eliana Magon), who most needs her mother's affection, is left to fend on her own, encountering challenges that a child of her age would normally be shepherded through.

The point of the film is to examine how these five individuals begin to assemble the shards of their lives and move forward. Bergman chronicles the characters' struggles with personal demons without passing judgment. The most poignant individual in the film is Maya. At an age when most of her friends are out having fun, she is not only denied the simple joys of being a teenager, but her responsibilities constrict her from being able to pursue her dream. And, because she is burdened with the guilt of a misplaced sense of responsibility for her father's death, she forces herself to shoulder the onus of keeping her family together.

The best known of Broken Wings' actors is Orly Silbersatz Banai, who has worked in cinema and on television since the late 1970s. Maya Maron, whose poised and conflicted performance matches that of Banai's for intensity, has a few credits on her resume, including "Sea Horses," Bergman's calling card short. The other three principals - Nitai Gaviratz, and the brother/sister team of Daniel and Eliana Magon - are making their debuts. Also in the cast is Vladimir Friedman as a doctor who takes an interest in Dafna's sad situation.

Despite having been filmed in Israel with an Israeli cast and crew, no mention is made of the current Middle East political situation. In fact, the cultural and religious struggles of the region are expressly ignored. To me, this is an appropriate approach, since it italicizes the universality of the feelings and experiences undergone by the characters. Race, religion, and culture are not boundaries against grief and guilt. Other critics see Broken Wings as an allegory for the Middle East situation, but I believe that's looking too deep. The evidence simply isn't there. Those with agendas can see anything as an allegory; I prefer to view Bergman's film as an affecting, character-based drama that ends not with tears, but on a note of optimism.

Broken Wings (Israel, 2002)

Director: Nir Bergman
Cast: Orly Silbersatz Banai, Maya Maron, Nitai Gaviratz, Daniel Magon, Eliana Magon, Vladimir Friedman
Screenplay: Nir Bergman
Cinematography: Valentin Belonogov
Music: Avi Bellieli
U.S. Distributor: Sony Classics
Run Time: 1:24
U.S. Release Date: 2004-03-12
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Nudity, Drugs)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: English subtitled Hebrew
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1