Movie Review: Broken Mirrors
By Matthew Huntley
October 4, 2020
It’s a simple fact of life that parents and children, particularly adolescent children, don’t always see eye to eye. In fact, their differing points of view can sometimes cause such deep-rooted pain and resentment that reconciliation and acceptance seem impossible, at which point only time and experience will allow the parent and child to finally see each other as people. Hopefully though, if or when this happens, any anger or hatred that’s built up will fade away and the parent-child relationship will not only heal but also grow.
“Broken Mirrors” is the latest feature to dramatize this time-honored truth, and it’s to the credit of writer-directors Aviad Givon and Imri Matalon, along with a superb cast, the film is able to take its familiar themes and still make them engaging and effective. The story we’ve been told before: a strict and conservative parent imparts his seemingly one-track views onto his rebellious and unruly child. The child, in turn, becomes more defiant and behaves more recklessly, approaching the precipice of tragedy.
But the film is a testament to the power honest and unaffected storytelling can have on even the most traditional narrative setups. Despite its common structure, the mood, tone and characters feel genuine and we respond to them.
The parent in this case is a controlling father named Giora (Yiftach Klein), who takes his job as commander in the Israeli army very seriously. His long career in the military has shaped him into a man of unrelenting order and austerity, and at first, Giora seems like a typically strict, no-nonsense disciplinarian. But one of the lasting qualities of “Broken Mirrors” is the way it slowly reveals why its characters behave the way do and works to “break” down our assumptions, if you will.
Giora imposes his rigid and often unreasonable parenting methods onto his 17-year-old daughter, Ariella (Shira Haas), who also behaves typically for her age and for a girl in her position. She stays out till all hours of the night; drinks and experiments with drugs at parties; rides wildly on the back of pickup trucks; and dresses scantily (or at least she does in the eyes of Giora).
One refreshing aspect of Givon and Matalon’s screenplay is that it makes it clear, early on, that Giora and Ariella’s relationship has been wounded for some time now. He’s onto her late-night escapades and knows, for instance, she keeps a spare set of jeans in the electric box so she can change clothes right before coming inside after claiming to have been studying. Deep down, her mother Nava (Renana Raz) knows too, but she’s more forgiving of her daughter, probably because she was once a 17-year-old girl herself. Plus, by playing Ariella’s game, she’s able to passively stand her ground against Giora, whom she loves but knows he can get carried away.
In a lesser film, these characters might have remained as mere archetypes, but Givon and Matalon, and the cast, give them distinct personalities and weight that allows us to make a connection with them and they become real. Consider the length of the opening sequence when Ariella comes home late and we witness the humiliating measures Giora will take to teach his daughter a lesson about the dangers of dressing half-naked and hitching rides with strangers. It isn’t a pleasant sequence to watch but during it the characters reveal their essential natures and we get a strong sense of the tense family history. Through mostly behavior and reaction shots, as opposed to dialogue, Givon and Matalon show the anger, sadness and hurt between Giora and Ariella, with Nava and Ariella’s younger sister, Reut (Manuel Elkaslassy), caught in the middle.
The extended opening also makes us wonder that because Giora and Ariella’s relationship is so tumultuous and has become so routine — she lies, he punishes — whether or not it can change. Given that “Broken Mirrors” is a drama, we naturally suspect it will, but the story gives the characters a complicated road to navigate. Without spoiling the plot, Ariella eventually runs away. Where she’s headed not even she knows, but her way of getting there once again involves hitchhiking, and this time it’s with men who want to take advantage of her. She even forces herself into men’s lives by offering herself to them, not only to get on their better side but because she feels this is her only role and choice.
At one point along her journey, Ariella trespasses onto private property and gets her foot caught in an animal trap. The owner is a young man and farmer named Ben, played by Yoav Rotman, who’s just about Ariella’s age, and Rotman’s boyish, puppy dog face immediately expresses his character’s infatuation with this mysterious girl. He gently sets her loose but Ariella isn’t used to kindness and is taken aback by Ben’s compassion. She’s become so used to being thought of as an object by gazing men or punished by her father that she continues to lie and maintain a rough and abrasive exterior. She all but demands Ben hire her for his flowering business, which he runs with an older gentleman named Siton (Yaakov Zada Daniel), who served with Ben’s father in the army, and Ben concedes to Ariella’s orders.
Meanwhile, Giora sits alone with Nava, waiting for his daughter to return and pretending he’s not worried. He too attempts to maintain a tough exterior but deep down he’s battling his own guilt and inner demons after a recent tragedy in his life has triggered a painful memory, which makes him prone to even more anger and remorse than we’ve already seen. Clearly, he’s not just upset about Ariella running away but also because he’s allowed a past transgression to eat him up inside and has used Ariella as a way to vent and channel his frustration.
I’ve deliberately left a lot of plot details out of this review so that you might discover them on your own, which you should. “Broken Mirrors” is currently available on Video On Demand and actually first came out in theaters in 2018, making its way around the international film festival circuit before opening in its native Israel. If there is one good thing to come of this current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that some foreign films like this (“House of Hummingbird” and “Sometimes Always Never” are two others) are making their way to the United States at a faster rate.
“Broken Mirrors” is a melodrama to be sure, one that ultimately subscribes to the traditional Hollywood model, which means I probably don’t have to tell you Ariella and Giora’s respective journeys toward love, acceptance and self-compassion eventually collide and that certain events happen in just the nick of time before the ending wraps things up a little too quickly and conveniently. Even though these contrivances prevent the film from achieving a level of greatness, our hearts and minds remain engaged because Givon and Matalon allow the story and characters to simply be what and who they are without affectations. Yes, there are some obligatory and machinated scenes, but the narrative mostly plays out naturally and the characters appear to act and learn in real time without the plot prodding and pushing them. The film encourages us to reflect and reminds we’re not on a time limit toward finding inner peace or nurturing our relationships with others, so long as we can keep trying.