An unwilling guardian angel tends to a harried Haifa clan

An auspicious debut by Israeli director Nir Bergman, Broken Wings makes scant reference to Israel's social problems and none at all to the Palestinian Question. Still, this poignant, acutely observed movie is eloquent and suggestive in dramatizing a particular trauma in the context of an ordinary Haifa family.

The opening sequence has teenage Maya (Maya Maron), an aspiring singer-songwriter, called home from her first gig to baby-sit her younger siblings because her single mother, Dafna (Orli Zilberschatz-Banai), a hospital midwife, has been put on night shift, and her feckless brother, high school dropout Yair (Nitai Gvirtz), is still wandering around town handing out advertising leaflets while costumed as a mouse. Maya rides back on her bike, still wearing her winged stage outfit. Although shouldering a burden of guilt that will only gradually be revealed, she is the family's unwilling guardian angel.

That the next morning is the first day of school only heightens the domestic chaos of this hyper-interactional, yet barely functioning, household. The apartment bathroom is the crossroads of the universe. Each shot seemingly begins in mid-action. Every phone call signals a potential disaster. Anything can precipitate an accident. It's gradually revealed that the overworked and terminally distracted Dafna is still reeling from her husband's sudden death, nine months before. She's a midwife to woe, and her fatherless children are imploding in the pressure cooker that is contemporary Israel.

Society is thoroughly, if haphazardly, institutionalized—much of the movie plays out in a hospital or a school. As the events pile on, the characters take turns losing control. The central tension is between mother and daughter—for reasons only later apparent, Dafna gets along far better with the diffident Yair than she does with Maya. Broken Wings is well acted by a mainly youthful ensemble, but its somewhat fudged chronology is held together by the perpetually harried Zilberschatz-Banai. This well-known stage actress plays a woman rendered numb and clumsy by grief, barely able to cope, and close to primitive in her responses to stimuli. The sudden radiance of her smile can be truly shocking: Life goes on even in the aftershock of inexplicable calamity.

 
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