I have been asked recently not only to recommend and discuss new films, but also to recommend films that are “out there” on DVD.
One of my favorite Israeli feature films of all times is Broken Wings כנפיים שבורות which won the Wolgin Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival (2002) and first prize at the Tokyo Film Festival. This is a tragic story about an ordinary family and how they deal with loss, especially how adolescents react to the death of their father. The film is surprisingly authentic, including a great script, typical teenage pranks, some nudity (no real sex) and a fair amount of vulgarity!
The story takes place in Haifa at the end of the summer vacation and on the first day back to school. Dafna (Orly Zilbershatz-Banai who won awards for this role) is recently widowed, the mother of four, working night shifts as a nurse at the hospital, desperately trying to make ends meet. Her two teenage children – one a boy and one a girl – react very differently to the family pressures. Her daughter, Maya, pitches in by washing the floor, making sandwiches, and taking care of her younger siblings. Yair, on the other hand, is out at night, distributing leaflets dressed up in a full body costume as a mouse, having an existential crisis, no longer believing that life is worth living, very bright but desperately in need of attention. Why does the young man hide from reality in his mouse costume? Perhaps because of the tremendous burden being placed on young men in our society who are forced to grow up so quickly and shoulder the responsibilities of serving in the army and defending the State. There is a terrible void left by the father and Yair is not yet ready to face the responsibilities of being the man in the family.
The film was produced in 2002 at the height of the despair of the 2nd intifada. (Etched in all of our memories is the shockingly brutal attack at a Passover Seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya which took place during Passover 2002.) During this period, Israeli citizens were being killed often by drive-by shootings, by terrorist attacks, and soldiers were dying in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
When Maya reveals that her father died from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, the audience suddenly realizes that this was a senseless and meaningless death. But when is death meaningful? Dying for your country, perhaps -- but certainly not in a terrorist attack or in a drive-by shooting. This also brings to mind the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, perhaps a father figure for all young people, who was killed by one of our own simply for wanting to make peace.
Perhaps the filmmakers were trying to remind us that so many people were dying as a result of “the matsav” that we must not forget or minimize the tragedy and suffering of those who lost loved one to deaths such as car accidents or bee stings. Another interpretation, perhaps even more hard-hitting, could be that the father died a shockingly senseless and tragic death, a metaphor for those terribly meaningless deaths from terrorist attacks that we were experiencing all around us.