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Jewish population aside, most Americans probably know Israel only through the headlines. Broken Wings shows a glimpse of life inside Israel, apart from the border disputes and suicide bombings.

Dafna Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Mother and son live together but grieve individually
Mother and son live together but grieve individually

Dafna (Orly Zilberschatz-Banai) is a single mother, trying to hold her family together. Her husband died nine months ago, and the situation hasn’t yet given birth to a new life. She and her two daughters and two sons live together in a crowded house, but they grieve individually.

Yair (Nitai Gvirtz), the eldest son, has retreated into himself. He wears a mouse costume in public, apparently because he wants to, but to justify it he hands out fliers on the subway.

Ido (Daniel Magon), the youngest son, has taken to falling from higher and higher distances into a nearby empty swimming pool, starting from the shallow end and working his way deeper. Broken Wings never tells us what sort of logic Ido sees in jumping, but it’s the kind of fixed idea a 7-year-old who has lost his father might adopt.

Dafna works as a midwife nurse, sometimes on the night shift. She is perpetually exhausted, and it’s not entirely because of her random schedule. When she can’t cope, she delegates mothering duties to Maya (Maya Maron), her 17-year old daughter with hopes of becoming a singer/songwriter.

The resolution Broken Wings requires is for the family to reunite emotionally, which is a tricky business because each member needs something different in order to heal.

Testament to Talent

Broken Wings is the feature debut from Israeli filmmaker Nir Bergman, who has a good grasp of character and emotion. That some of the cast are making their feature debuts (Gvirtz, Maron) is as much a testament to Bergman’s talent as a director as it is to their own talent as actors.

Some of the performances are really top-notch, including Zilberschatz-Banai as the frazzled matriarch, and Maron, who anchors the movie as the mother-surrogate Maya whose wings — her singing career is this close to taking off — get broken. It is fitting that these two women share the film’s ending scene.

Broken Wings is also worth a look for its glimpse into another culture. The life of a poor family Israel looks very much like it might in Cleveland. Teenagers go to high school, mother works in a hospital, and when their clunker car breaks down, they walk or take the bus. Only the language, the landscape, and the avocado sandwiches reveal that we’re actually half a world away.

It’s interesting that this movie — set in Haifa — deliberately ignores border conflicts and suicide bombers. It’s as if these characters have more important things to worry about. (Bergman deliberately made father’s cause of death something ridiculous and mundane, and not violent and political.)

Out of the Moment

Broken Wings doesn’t earn higher praise, and there are a few reasons why not. Most obvious is that although the drama is well presented, it’s of such a low level that the movie never sets itself apart from the crowd. It’s never bad, but it’s hard to get excited about.

The movie also has some unfortunate melodramatic moments that detract from the realistic drama of the rest of the film. Maya turns down a recording deal because she has to stay home and mop the floor. Dafna is completely blind to the sacrifices she asks of Maya, even when they are outrageously, blatantly obvious to the audience.

There are also some movie contrivances that pull you out of the moment and into the theater, reminding you that somebody wrote what you’re seeing. The handsome doctor that Dafna has been eyeing literally runs into her after their shift. And Maya’s potential success seems a little too good to be true for someone who is only 17 years old and not pursuing her singing more actively

Nevertheless, Broken Wings is a promising feature debut, not only for Bergman but also for Maron.