Mama’s Angel: Social tensions spark in this nuanced Israeli drama
Ivan Radford | On 12, Aug 2018
Ever since Prisoners of War, which went on to inspire the US remake of Homeland, Israeli TV seems to be enjoying something of a golden age. Fauda has been snapped up by Netflix, while False Flag hit the international stage at the Berlin Film Festival. Several series from the country are also set for the remake treatment, following CBS’ remake of Hostages under the same title, starring Toni Collette. The best, though, has come courtesy of Walter Presents, in the form of Beauty and the Baker, a charming, funny, emotional romantic comedy-drama that was one of our favourite series from 2017.
Now, the foreign-language TV service is streaming another show that promises to be similarly impressive: Mama’s Angel. The psychological drama charts the impact of a young boy’s death upon a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv, in a way that promises powerful, pertinent and provocative plot twists aplenty.
The opening episode takes its time to reveal the murder at the show’s heart, but that patience is precisely what impresses. Instead of rushing out a dead body, creator Keren Weissman weaves a complex portrait of a society that is already far from perfect: as we join the community on the eve of Yom Kippur, we witness division, both cultural and racial, and glimpse anger lurking beneath a calm surface that threatens to tip over into view. This is a town where the personal and political are irrevocably intertwined, and both appear to lead to bad things.
Our main window onto the world is Yael, a prison therapist who is assigned a new patient: a convict who killed his own children. Their interactions are fraught with uneasy tension, particularly on the part of Sharon Shtark’s visibly enraged wife and mother. Her husband is too self-absorbed to notice, or help to look after their children, and her bond to her kids makes the loss that will happen all the more distressing.
Maternal ties are central to the fabric of this world, and the second main thread of the series comes from Nigist, an Ethiopian nursery employee (played with calm purpose and resilience by Tehilla Yashayauh. She knows she’s going to bid farewell to her son – Rafa (Yoni Meles) – as he prepares to go to art school overseas. But in doing so, he’s avoiding national service in the military. When he and his mother go to their synagogue or prayer, we can feel the ostracisation that’s occurring, as Nigist draws looks and comments and Rafa lurks awkwardly on the edge of the group. We presume it’s due to is decision to study rather than serve, but there’s no denying it’s a matter of racial prejudice. Yet could there still be another hidden secret that we’re yet to discover? Either way, the air is oppressively thick with possibility and tension.
There’s some relief from that for Rafa, as he sneaks off to meet a girlfriend – another act that we suspect will only draw negative attention to himself. And so it is that his tagging of a local war memorial sets him up for an inevitable fall, as we see Yael’s son, Kfir, looking at the memorial by himself.
Connections are already running between each of these characters by the time the opening hour is out – Kfir’s medal is already marked out as an important clue – and the way the townsfolk talk makes it clear that even in an affluent neighbourhood, people talk and know each other’s business, no matter how private it is. Through this minefield of moral, social and political conflicts walks the substantial detective Benny Mendelovich (Eyal Rozales), who will have to piece together all of these strands, including their relation to Dina (Lirit Balaban), another mother with a son, Amnon (Tom Hagi), whose mental health issues don’t guarantee him immunity for playing a crucial role in the plot. As one mother is faced with terrible grief, how much support will she find from the others? Or do the trio simply hold more dark surprises in store? Grounded in its context and performed with heartfelt nuance, Mama’s Angel is already off to a flying start.
Mama’s Angel premieres at 10pm on Channel 4 on Sunday 12th August 2018, with all 10 episodes then available as a box set on Walter Presents.