You'll tear up at this hard hitting family drama... the same way Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger tears up when Mr. Mister's sentimental '80s ballad plays on the radio.
"Things could be worse."—Yair
Broken Wings is Israel's answer to Party of Five. A bereaved family struggles to survive, and we're shown a week's worth of that struggle. Broken Wings is noteworthy because it takes a melodramatic cloth and wrings out the oversaturation of cheap sentimentality. The resultant film hits the same notes as countless television melodramas, but does so in a non-manipulative, sensibility-pleasing way.
Facts of the Case
Dafna Ulman (Orly Silbersatz Banai, Song of the Siren) is the harried matriarch of a despondent family. Her eldest daughter, Maya (Maya Maron, Campfire), is a singer-songwriter on the brink of discovery, held back from her personal goals by the need to be a surrogate mother while Dafna works double shifts. Her brother Yair (Nitai Gaviratz) has taken a fatalistic outlook and quit school. He spends his days handing out flyers on the subway and his nights wandering. Younger siblings Ido and Bahr (Daniel and Eliana Magon) spend way too much time unchaperoned. Despite their dysfunction, signs point to a foundation of love and mutual respect between the family members. They simply need a way to rediscover it.
Nir Bergman, an aspiring film school student, took a modest grant from the Israeli government and created this heartbreaking tale of family dynamics. By studiously avoiding overt references to the political or religious climate in Israel, Bergman crafted a film that virtually any audience can respond to. Israeli audiences responded with enthusiasm to Broken Wings, giving it nine of Israel's highest-profile film awards. It has been popular in international markets as well; Broken Wings has struck a universal chord.
This popularity is at least a little surprising because Broken Wings isn't exactly a groundbreaker in terms of plot. Overworked mother + unfairly put-upon daughter + rebellious brother + confused youngsters + quirky possible love interest + unifying tragedy has been done many, many, many times. In fact, if you stop to think about it, you might wonder why Broken Wings is drawing you in at all.
The likelihood is that you won't stop to think about it. Bergman uses these familiar circumstances to weave an honest and fresh tale, and his actors carry the material with grace. Bergman sees beyond clichè to find universal truth, and his insight turns a hackneyed plot into a compelling one. I have extremely low tolerance for the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth that characterize WB dramas and their ilk. Party of Five wore out its welcome with me when Bailey had his second outburst, Charlie let everyone down for the second time, and Claudia furrowed her brow again. Dawson lost me with his incessant navel gazing. If anything, I have an advanced perimeter of seek-and-destroy hackles that fend off sap before the sickly-sweet smell reaches my nostrils. Though it covers the same territory as these melodramas, Broken Wings never set off my alarms.
I'm glad it didn't, because unhurried enjoyment of the film allowed the emotional punch in the gut to sneak up on me. Before I knew what had hit me, an honest emotional response had welled forth in response to the plight of Maya and her family. Had my seek-and-destroy emotional response team not quickly quelled the outburst, this response might have manifested in a release of moisture from my eye in a trickle down my cheek. The less emotion-phobic among you might experience an honest-to-goodness cry that will cleanse your soul. But I'm not into that, so who knows for sure?
Acting carries the day in this film. Most of the actors are relatively inexperienced, but Bergman draws good performances from them. Maya and Dafna are the centerpiece characters; Maya Maron and Orly Silbersatz Banai use ethereal intensity and years of acting experience, respectively, to create winning characters. Maya could become a bona fide star of Israeli cinema. She has looks that are pleasant and expressions that carry more weight than her slender frame can bear. Banai is equally downtrodden, using a physical performance to suggest fatigue and shock. The fine performances trickle down all the way to the cute-as-a-button Eliana Magon—there isn't a flat performance in the bunch.
Bergman uses creative visual devices to get his meaning across. Maya and Dafna argue vehemently, but then they both push Dafna's car down the road to get it going. Maya on one side of the car, Dafna opposite, but both pushing to get the family down the road. Each character has a unique visual device that screams allegory. These screams are muffled by the unsympathetic reality of the events in the movie—a nice counterpoint.
I said that Broken Wings is Israel's answer to Party of Five, but it might actually be an answer to Pump Up the Volume. Both films share a focus on realistic characters and events over cheap emotional stunts. Both compensate for a low budget through pitch-perfect casting and a palpable sense of isolation and worry. Both are overlooked gems that don't attempt too much, choosing instead to deliver a succinct and sound emotional statement.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is a pet peeve of mine when movies affect an intimate vibe by employing nudity, yet thwart that vibe with awkward modesty. Case in point: A suicidal girl in Broken Wings gets Yair's attention by stripping nude and walking to the window sill. He reaches out to her by stripping himself. This girl is on camera for several minutes, but her breasts are artfully obscured by a double cascade of hair. I have long hair, and lemme tell you that it never stays perfectly still to hover over your nipples. It gets in your face and flies around like a writhing medusa, especially when you go jumping around in window sills. To be clear, I'm not opposed to modesty in film if decorum calls for it. But Broken Wings drops the F-bomb every other minute, already has an R rating, and purports to be an "honest" film. Perhaps Bergman was concerned for the reputation of his actress, or perhaps the government grant forbade nudity. If so, fine. But don't compensate with a silly hair bikini that fools no one. Find another way, another camera angle, another metaphorical device.
Though the transfer isn't bad, the color balance seemed odd. The skin tones had a greenish tinge that made the characters seem ill. Maya oscillates between radiant and seasick. Shadow detail is smeared slightly in darker scenes. On the other hand, there wasn't too much edge enhancement or distracting grain/digital artifacts. The sound quality is better; though two conversations had brief harshness in the higher frequencies, the overall sound mix is pleasant, particularly Maya's singing.
The extras…well, there aren't any.
If you order your melodramas without the "melo," Broken Wings will probably be just the thing. It is fresh, and somehow sweet despite the bitterness of its story. Perfectly balanced performances help smooth over the flat notes, leaving a film with just enough blemish to get below your radar.
Take these broken wings and learn to fly again!
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