In this feature film debut by Israeli writer-director Nir Bergman, a dysfunctional family living in Haifa teeters on the edge of falling apart. Dafna’s husband has died nine months earlier in a freak accident involving a bee sting, leaving her to eke out a living while at the same time taking care of her four children. Each child has responded to the tragedy in its own fashion. Overworked and underpaid as a midwife at the local hospital, Dafna barely has time to attend to their confusion.
Her oldest child, 17-year-old Maya, is on the verge of a recording career, having gotten a label’s attention with a soft-rock song she’s written about her father. This would involve leaving for Tel Aviv with her band, but she’s conflicted, wanting desperately to go but feeling guilty at the same time. Maya’s brother, 16-year-old Yair, is suffering a crisis of alienation, seeing people, including himself, as specks of dust floating in a meaningless universe — or so he claims, in his too-cool and detached teenage intellectual way.
The youngest son, 11-year-old Ido, has become a chronic bed-wetter, something he tries to hide by switching sheets before dawn with his 6-year-old sister Bahr. This fools no one except Bahr, who finds it interesting that she wets the bed every night but still has to pee in the morning. Ido also has a dangerous fondness for videotaping himself as he jumps into empty swimming pools.
This could be soapy stuff, but Bergman has written an intelligent and insightful script, keeping the drama low-key and believable, even when one of the surviving family members falls into harm’s way (and even when the film’s passive-aggressive New Agey score becomes a little pushy). There’s an abundance of misery here, but there’s also an understanding of the durability of family ties. When the emotional crunch comes, it’s enough to break through both Yair’s protective nihilism and Dafna and Maya’s ongoing mother-daughter antagonism. This is a quietly effective domestic drama, and it’s a sign of Bergman’s subtle touch that he manages to devise an ending that’s upbeat without too neatly tying up the story’s messy ends.
In Hebrew with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday-Sunday, April 23-25. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.