Dir. Nir Bergman, Israel, 2002. 87mins.

Having already secured top awards first in Jerusalem and then in Tokyo, this coming-of-age story in a dysfunctional family mourning the accidental death of the father, is bound to become Israel's film of the year for 2002. The auspicious debut of Nir Bergman, a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Cinema School in Jerusalem, this painful, intimately personal tale will draw not only younger audiences who will identify with the young generation on screen but also their parents, who will sympathise with in the plight of the mother. Winner of nine of the 13 prizes at the Israeli Academy Awards, it will also represent the country the foreign language Oscars. Several American mini-majors are already expressing interest in it after the Tokyo screening.

Everyone in the Ullman family is still broken by the father's death nine months earlier. After staying in bed for three months, the mother, Dafna, returns to her former job as a maternity nurse in a big hospital. The older son, Yair, has dropped out of school, abandoned a potential basketball career and now hides inside a Mickey Mouse costume to distribute flyers on the Underground. The older daughter, Maya, has to give up a budding singing career to baby sit her younger siblings while the younger son, Ido, responds aggressively to what he feels as rejection, walks around with his video camera and hopes to break some kind of world record by jumping into an empty pool. Meanwhile his small sister, Bar, wonders whether it's OK for her to wet her bed (she doesn't but her brother sprinkles it with water to make her believe she does).

Each is profoundly immersed in their own misery, coping with the untimely departure of the family patriarch and with the attendant guilt, they have no time to spare for anyone else. Only a traumatic incident can pull the family out of its crisis and when it happens, they all teeter on the brink of disaster before eventually retrieving their balance.

Bergman, who has distinguished himself in the past for his short films, faultlessly captures the mood, vocabulary and body language of the young family members, delivering a remarkably authentic image of pain, confusion and anguish at varying ages. Despite the complexity of the roles, the cast, consisting mostly of young unknowns, intuitively grow into their respective parts. Compared to the natural, spontaneous acting of the kids, Orli Zilbershatz-Banai, the one experienced stage actress, who plays the mother, gives a deeply affecting and yet rather theatrical performance.

Briskly cut to maintain interest in the individual story of each family member, the film occasionally goes over the top, slipping into pathos or suggesting that every family the Ullmans come into contact with is similarly dysfunctional. But the impressive sincerity of the performances more than compensates for this. The brooding mood, mixed with flashes of self-deprecating humour, prevails, with Haifa's wintery landscape and the less than glamorous background of lower middle class neighbourhoods, supplying supportive atmosphere.

Prod. co.: Norma Productions
Prod: Assaf Amir
Exec. Prod: Yoav Roeh
Scr: Nir Bergman
Cinematography: Valentin Belonogov
Ed: Einat Glaser-Zarhin
Costumes: Ada Levin
Music: Avi Belleli
Main cast: Orli Zilbershatz-Banai, Maya Maron, Nitai Gvirtz, Daniel Magon, Eliana Magon, Vladimir Friedman, Dana Ivgi, Yoram (Mooki) Niv