2002Director: Nir Bergman
Cast: Orli Zilberchatz-Banai, Maya Moron, Nitai Gaviratz
he Israeli movie Broken Wings is a sad but beautiful snapshot of one family at a single awful moment. It depicts the Ullmans, each member pulled and driven in so many different directions during a brief and painful period when their lives go from bad to worse, and then a little further.
The movie allows us a glimpse of that split-second instant just before stretched-thin transforms calamitously into torn-apart. But the movie’s greatest achievement is that it never makes disaster seem fated; there is no inkling of doom. And even as all that shit comes dangerously close to hitting the fan, no one is taking cover. Broken Wings features only the dignified humanity of the Ullman family as it simply struggles to survive.
We catch up with the Ullmans in Haifa, a few months after the family has lost its father to a sudden and, until late in the film, mysterious death. The widow Dafna (Orli Zilberchatz-Banai) is forced to desperately cope, grieve, move on, and care for her four children all at once. The eldest child Maya (Maya Maron), a thin but forceful 17 year-old with long dark hair and even darker eyebrows, is the heartbeat of the movie. She must cover the gaps, filling in when mom is off working triple shifts as a hospital nurse just to make ends meet. Maya herself just yearns to be a teenager.
Then there’s 16 year-old Yair, a one-time basketball star who now prefers only to comment on the meaninglessness of life. Rounding out the clan are a lonely and distrustful 11 year-old boy Ido, and six year-old Bahr, a little girl who just needs to be hugged a little more. While many siblings share conspicuous distinguishing characteristics—high cheekbones, maybe, or blue eyes—that thing which makes the Ullmans especially Ullman-like is their mutual sadness. It is an emotion that they all not only feed off of but also unconsciously nurture. They are enablers of each other’s depression.
The story has a limited arc: Life sucks and continues to suck. Complications and obstacles arise, and each family member handles them in his or her own way, but the film does not move toward any particular end. That’s pretty clear from the get-go. And frustrating as that running-in-circles may be, it is key to both the Ullmans’ suffering and the movie’s tone. But Broken Wings is neither a screed on alienation and man’s inhumanity toward man, nor a sneaky tear-jerker. Yes, it is a sentimental film in the sense that the filmmaker is clearly pleading with his viewers to feel for the characters. But he never takes any shortcuts—their struggles are real and their pain complete. So the film's intentions remain earnest, and the emotions it evokes feel genuine. When, in the end, we get a small glimmer of hope, that too rings true.
Just as the movie’s relationships feel gritty and unadorned, so too does its look. The colors are washed out, the setting is anonymous and sprawling, and the pacing is unhurried. To be sure, while these images seem just as deliberately laid as those of, say, the Coen brothers, they achieve something different altogether. From young Ido playing in an abandoned empty swimming pool, to Maya’s solitary bike ride through a shadow-filled back road, one poetic image after another fills the movie. Unfortunately, as beautiful as they are, a few scenes do seem have been included simply for beauty’s sake. They’re enchanting but still inch toward overdone.
We know the film takes place in the midst of the pervasive fear, anger, and violence that has come of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yet, there is not a single mention, not even the slimmest passing reference, to the endless death and hate that has come to dominate much of the Middle East. Instead, the film goes much more personal though no less complicated. This is a family dealing with disaster, and that can happen in Cleveland the same way it does in Haifa. The father’s death—its circumstances banal, its consequences debilitating—has shaken this family to its foundation. The beauty of Broken Wings is its unflinching willingness to examine each survivor as they pick through the rubble of their lives.
By: Rob Lott
Published on: 2004-05-05