Broken Wings

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Broken Wings

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It's the mark of a great writer when every character in a story, minor or major, seems distinct and fully inhabited, to the point where it's easy to imagine them existing before the action starts, after it ends, and apart from any plot machinations at all. Broken Wings, the subtle and unexpectedly powerful debut feature of Israeli writer-director Nir Bergman, takes the shape of a conventional family melodrama, so modest in scope and nondescript in appearance that its special qualities could easily go unnoticed. Forged from an accumulation of small touches, the film builds to all the requisite emotional payoffs, but it persistently slips around cliché, either by approaching major incidents indirectly, or by revealing new depths through perceptive writing and performances. In less than 90 minutes, Bergman and his exceptional cast show how a wounded family interacts together and apart, with each of its five members finding different avenues for their compounded grief and dysfunction. Still numb over her husband's fluke death from an allergic reaction to a bee-sting, Orly Zilberschatz-Banai works long hours as a hospital midwife in Haifa, unloading the care of her two youngest children on her 17-year-old daughter Maya Maron. As Maron's older brother (Nitai Gvirtz) sinks deeper into a nihilistic haze, Maron is saddled with more responsibility than she can handle, especially when she'd rather be off pursuing brighter things, such as fronting a Mazzy Star-like dream-pop band. When a single neglected duty leads to devastating consequences, the precarious dynamic holding the family together suddenly changes into something equally tenuous, with Maron left feeling at fault for both her father's death and the new tragedy. Though it lacks the breadth, ambition, or formal chops of Edward Yang's Yi Yi, Broken Wings has a similar understanding of how family members can drift around each other like satellites. They live under the same roof and perform their expected roles, yet they also keep their distance, closing each other off from more private thoughts and pursuits. In the film's most moving scene, Maron's burbling grief finally surfaces when she sings at a recording studio, a moment that gains force from Bergman's decision to fade out the music track and focus on the raw emotion in her voice. Other scenes benefit from withholding information from the characters, such as a key encounter between Maron's brother and an ex-flame that transforms him while he remains oblivious to his family's latest setback. Broken Wings doesn't stray far from the common melodrama in its setup and resolutions, but Bergman's uncommon sensitivity makes the film feel specific, intimate, and utterly plausible at every turn.

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