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Broken Wings (Knafayim Shvurot) (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs

Though the movie never directly references the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its implications are everywhere.

Broken Wings (knafayim Shvurot)

Director: Nir Bergman
Cast: Maya Maron, Orli Zilberschatz-Banai, Nitai Gvirtz, Daniel Magon, Eliana Magon
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 1969-12-31 (Limited release)

Maya Ullman (Maya Maron) wears wings when she performs. An aspiring singer-songwriter, she prepares for a gig by donning black legging, a dusting of face glitter, and a pair of black gossamer wings. Backstage, just before her band's spot in a local contest, her mother, Dafna (Orli Zilberschatz-Banai), tells her she has to come home. Dafna's been called for a night shift at the hospital where she works as a midwife, and 17-year-old Maya has to babysit 11-year-old Ido (Daniel Magon) and six-year-old Bahr (Eliana Magon, who dubbed Lilo's voice in Hebrew for Lilo & Stitch).

At the start of Broken Wings, Maya declares her independence, telling her mother that she won't give up her chance at potential stardom, and then, in the next moment, she appears riding her bicycle through the dark streets of Haifa, her broken wings quivering behind her. She arrives home just in time to help Dafna jumpstart the unreliable family car by pushing it down a hill. Thus established as a dependable, if reluctant, "angel," Maya puts her siblings to bed and shuts herself in her bedroom to listen to the contest on the radio. When her band performs, the good-looking guitarist Yoram (Danny Niv) sings the song she wrote -- not very well, but poignantly. Maya smiles, imagining what might have been.

Meantime, Maya's twin brother, Yair (Nitai Gvirtz), comes home late, after riding the subway all night. He's dropped out of high school (where Maya is also struggling), and has taken a job handing out advertising flyers to passengers. It's no coincidence that for this gig, he dresses as a mouse, with enormous head and scrawny tail. The costume, like Maya's wings, designates an emotional state. He feels small and trapped, he's quit playing basketball (which he apparently loved), and he's stopped interacting with his family, except for brief exchanges with Maya, whom he calls "Skeleton," referring to her emaciated appearance, itself an allusion to her emotional neediness. The girl is starving for attention, even as Yair is rejecting it. "Your words are meaningless," he tells a school counselor. "This conversation does not exist and you don't exist." No surprise, he rejects her suggestion that he needs psychological treatment.

The cause of the family's pain and privation isn't novel, but it is resonant: nine months earlier, their father died of an allergic reaction to a bee sting, suffered, it so happens, while he was out for an afternoon with Maya. This explains her special agony, her sense of guilt, her persistent efforts to please her mother. It also explains, to an extent, Dafna's unwillingness to comfort her daughter, and instead, to expect perpetual repentance. The mother's attitude is less cruel than it is a function of trauma; she's so wrapped up with surviving her own long hours and paying rent for their tiny apartment that she hardly notices Maya's pain; and when a doctor, Valentin (Vladimir Friedman), shows her kindness, Dafna is unable to respond coherently, angry one minute and devastated the next.

Broken Wings' investigation of profound emotional damage is, predictably, most poignant with regard to the younger children. Increasingly fractious and confused by their mother's (and sister and brother's) distance, little Bahr has taken to locking herself in the bathroom to avoid going to school, and Ido has picked up an odd hobby: after school, he takes his video camera to an empty public swimming pool, where he tries to tape himself falling.

While first time filmmaker Nir Bergman solicits moving performances from his actors (see especially Maron, who manages to be both delicate and steely at the same time), the film leans heavily on visual symbolism to make its points. If only Dafna could spend time with her own children instead of birthing others; if only Maya could share her feelings with her family, rather than pouring her heart into a song they won't hear; if only Ido would stop throwing himself onto cold concrete.

These bits of metaphor accumulate, of course, leading to a literal tragedy that pulls the family back together. While the melodrama can be overbearing -- Maya's tears on hearing her song played back to her, Yair's stoicism crumbling when a friend threatens suicide, Dafna's eventual realization that she has to be the adult -- Broken Wings is most effective when it steps back from overt representation. Its interest in suffering and loss emerges in an environment suffused with misfortune and misery. Though the movie never directly references the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its implications are everywhere. As Maya, Dafna, and Yair must learn to forgive one another, they are survivors -- of sudden trauma and endless loss.

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