BROKEN WINGS (Knafayim Shvurot)
Directed by Nir Bergman (2002)
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise." - Paul McCartney
The trauma that accompanies the sudden loss of a beloved family member is being repeated all over the Middle East today. Behind the headlines are the stories we never read about. One of these is told metaphorically in Nir Bergman's brilliant first effort Broken Wings. It is not an overtly political film, but the implications are clear. Set in the Israeli port city of Haifa, it depicts the effect of the loss of a patriarch on each member of his family, perhaps suggesting the emotional state of Israel since the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. The 83-minute film won accolades at the Berlin International Film Festival and has been a huge critical and commercial success in Israel, winning nine Israeli Academy Awards in 2003.
The beautifully expressive Maya Maron, in her first major role, plays an Israeli teenage singer-songwriter (also named Maya) who dreams of becoming a rock star, and wears wings when she sings in her local band. As the film opens, Maya is singing a song she wrote in memory of her father who died suddenly nine months earlier, for reasons not disclosed until the end of the film. Her song is interrupted when her mother Dafna (stage actress Orly Zilberschatz Banai), a nurse, phones and tells her that she has been called to work on the night shift at the local hospital and needs Maya home to take care of her brother Ido and sister Bahr. Maya emphatically refuses, then relents, but the tension between mother and daughter is palpable.
The young woman, who was with her father when he died, does not fully grasp the guilt behind her bottled-up rage, and takes out her anger on her mother, who is both sympathetic and irritating as she labors wearily to keep the family from a collision course. We learn that each family member is suffering the father's loss in his or her own way. Dafna stayed in bed for three months, leaving the children to do the parenting, and the results are reflected in their erratic behavior. Six-year old Bahr wets her bed and Ido carries out a strange ritual of filming himself while jumping into an empty pool. The oldest brother Yair (Nitai Gaviratz), also a teenager, has been suspended from school, and hands out leaflets on commuter trains dressed in a mouse costume while expressing a nihilistic philosophy to anyone who will listen. His inability to respond to the words father, fear, and anger during a word association test prompts his school counselor to deny him re-admittance until he receives treatment, but he does not help his cause when he tells the counselor "Your words are meaningless. This conversation does not exist and you don't exist."
Yair tells Maya that "things could be worse," and they do get worse before they get better. Broken Wings may sound depressing, but in Bergman's skillful hands, its sadness is balanced with humor and the strength and dignity of its characters. The film doesn't break any new ground, but displays the kind of insight that allows us to learn something new about ourselves. Though rooted in reality, Broken Wings has a heart that leaps and a soul that soars, and it's a film that I truly loved.