NEW YORK -- Nir Bergman's feature debut, an award winner at various festivals, depicts the travails suffered by an Israeli family because of the sudden death of its husband and father. Refreshingly free of subject matter dealing specifically with the violent turmoil of the region, "Broken Wings" is a sensitive and well-observed drama that, while not breaking new ground, marks its director-screenwriter as someone to watch. The film opened March 12 in New York before it expands nationally in the spring.
Left behind in the Ullman family of Haifa is middle-aged Dafna (Orli Zilberschatz-Banai), barely managing to cope financially with her job as a hospital midwife working the evening shifts; 16-year-old Yair (Nitai Gvirtz), a promising athlete who has dropped out of school only to distribute fliers while dressed as a mouse; 17-year-old Maya (Maya Maron), an aspiring singer-songwriter with boyfriend problems; 11-year-old Ido (Daniel Magon), who dreams of breaking the world free-jump record; and 6-year-old Bahr (Eliana Magon). When Maya forgets to pick up her younger sister after her first day of school, the resulting complications nearly cause tragedy for the family.
Bergman's screenplay is more of an accumulation of incidents than a compelling narrative, but the scenes are so deftly drawn and the characterizations so incisive that the film overcomes both its familiarity of themes and lack of weightiness. Deftly mixing comic moments into the occasionally melodramatic mix, the filmmaker has a clear empathy for his characters that well compensates for his sometimes too earnest approach.
He also has drawn excellent performances from his cast, both the child performers and Zilberschatz-Banai, a well-known Israeli stage actress who beautifully conveys both her character's frazzled desperation and, in a series of encounters with a new doctor at the hospital, romantic hopefulness. Maron also is excellent as the teenager trying to keep her family together even while racked with guilt over the circumstances, revealed late in the story, of her father's death.
Filmed in various institutions -- a hospital, a school -- in Haifa and Tel Aviv, "Broken Wings" resonates with a compelling humanity that makes it feel universal.