`Wings' pulls out the stops

May 14, 2004|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Broken Wings is a skillful Israeli family drama about a mother and four children at the start of a new school year, trying to repair themselves nine months after the death of the husband and father who was and still is at their household's center.

The movie has a primal mother-daughter hook that never loses its point. Orli Zilberschatz-Banai is a midwife too depressed and overworked to mind her own offspring and Maya Maron is the 17-year-old daughter and would-be rock singer who for most of a year has brought up the youngest children (Daniel and Eliana Magon).

Writer-director Nir Bergman lets the lead performers' tensions play out full-stop: these actresses have the gameness and authority to suggest volcanic feelings beneath weariness.

As Bergman inserts the older son into the action (Nitai Gvirtz, playing a high school dropout and former basketball star who now hands out advertising fliers in a mouse suit), the deceptive plainness of the movie's kitchen-sink look and straightforward scene-making gives way to bracing complexity. The filmmaker keeps cutting deeper into this gangling boy's idea that humans are meaningless specks.

And Bergman lays bare the needy impulses behind the younger son's odd obsessions. In the morning, this child makes it appear as if his kid sister wet her bed; in the afternoon he practices jumping into an empty pool and capturing it on-camera. His cry for attention becomes a leap into the void.

Bergman is trenchant at depicting the ways people avoid confronting guilt and grief, and his casting is exemplary. There's something haunting about the resemblance of Gvirtz's fragile girlfriend to his sister.

The movie's emotional spectrum may be more gray than necessary. This family exudes so much intelligence and creativity that Bergman could have upped the whole clan's energy level without compromising the story's integrity. But Broken Wings captures an authentic murmur of the heart.

At its best, the movie combines the musical and psychological meanings of a fugue. Sons and daughters and mother take up themes of dislocation and identity loss, and deepen them at every turn.

Broken Wings

Starring Orli Zilberschatz-Banai, Maya Maron, Nitai Gvirtz, Daniel Magon, and Eliana Magon

Directed by Nir Bergman

Released by Sony Pictures Classics

Rated R; in Hebrew, with English subtitles

Time 87 minutes

Sun Score ***

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