When John Amos left "Good Times" in 1976, the show lacked a patriarch, and the family spiraled into defeatism. Everything seemed to go wrong, and Esther Rolle's luckless single mother of three headstrong kids, grew more full of woe with each episode. She would be pleased to know she has an Israeli sister-friend in Dafna Ulman (Orli Ziverschatz-Banay), the widow and beleaguered mother of four in Nir Bergman's tearful "Broken Wings."
Dafna and her children are still hurting from the recent death of the man of their cluttered, comfy middle-class house. And each kid uses his absence as a reason to retreat into his or her own emotionally bruised world. The eldest, Maya (Maya Maron), has been making sweet, heartfelt music with her band. But on the eve of a performance, she has to leave to baby-sit her youngest siblings, Ido and Bahr (Daniel and Eliana Magon), because Dafna has to take another late shift at the hospital where she toils as a nurse. Maya curses her mother, even as she helps start the family car.
It's clear Maya feels she's pulling her mother's weight, getting Ido and Bahr ready for the first day of school. It's not fair, especially when all her younger brother Yair (Nitai Gvirtz) does is inflict his put-on philosophical reductions on the world. His father's death seems to have sent him spiraling into a Nietzschean funk -- but an amusing one. He's quit school and gets a job handing out fliers while dressed in a mouse costume. Even Iris (Dana Ivgy), the ex-classmate Yair flirts with, finds his whole "nothing really exists" defense mechanism transparent and exasperating.
Bergman keeps his narrative minimal, carving out each member of the family as an individual, then having a fresh misfortune befall them all. The unifying incident occurs when Ido, playing with Bahr, leaps into an empty pool and is knocked into a coma. Naturally, the news gets the best of Dafna, who has a Shirley MacLaine-in-"Terms of Endearment"-style breakdown, wherein she begs poor Ido to snap out of it.
A lot of the action in "Broken Wings" seems inevitable, right down to Maya's running away from home and more than one eye-watering reconciliation, yet this intimate, warmly made family portrait always feels true. The performances are particularly good. Ziverschatz-Banay has the haggard face and mannish carriage of vintage Julie Kavner, and she gives Dafna's stressed-out self-pity a hard-won finish. At the end of a long, harrowing day, what mother wouldn't seem as depleted as she does? Maron looks like the singer P.J. Harvey when she stands at a microphone, and her flights of anger and shame are moving.
Bergman's emphasis on realism dams off the rapids of melodrama that you suspect are on their way. And there is a handful of pretty, lingering images, such as Yair removing his costume at night and sitting in a window with Iris. "Broken Wings" is set in an autumnal September, and Bergman films the Ulmans with a lilt of spring. Rather than things falling away, he sees this family's changes as an occasion for renewal.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.