Shemi Zarhin’s The Kind Words follows three siblings on a journey to find out who their birth father is after their mother passes away. A touching and warm comedy-drama, The Kind Words feels like a throwback in storytelling; it is a film that is constantly nostalgic (whether that is due to the references to Eurovision winner Izhar Cohen, or the ways that this siblings go on a journey with an ultimate goal but along the way learn something about themselves) but it bears no bones about how it wants the audience to feel.
The film’s guide is middle child Dorona (Rotem Zissman-Cohen, who gives an outstanding performance as the film centres on her and her emotions), who has just experienced another miscarriage, another strain on her marriage to Ricki (Tsahi Halevi). Her older brother, Netanel (Roy Assaf), has started to follow the strict rules of his religion since getting married himself and younger brother, Shai (Assaf Ben-Shimon) is bisexual. Netanel can’t accept his younger brother’s sexuality, but the rest of the family including Algerian-born mother (Levana Finkelstein) or their father (Sasson Gabai) don’t have an issue. Ironically though, the fact their father has left their mother for a younger woman is enough to make the siblings forget to argue with one another but team up against their father. But when their his new wife wants to have a child, he finds out that he is infertile and couldn’t even have been the birth father for Dorona and her two brothers, which leads them on a path to find out who this mystery man actually is and what secrets their mother was keeping.
Zarhin wants to give backstory to the audience about each of the characters to make them feel a little more human, some work better than others and whilst (for example) it’s great to see an openly sexual character like Shai, it seems somewhat arbitrary that his sexuality is a sticking point for his brother, when it doesn’t really determine any path of the story. Needless to say though, like all the other bits of information the audience are given here and there, it does set up a fantastic set of family dynamics and makes the siblings really interesting to watch on screen as they interact.
The Kind Words is set with a backdrop of immigration, social standing and culture clashes – as they travel from Israel to France to find out what their aunt really knows about their birth father. It turns out that the secret of their identity can be found in their mother’s native Algiers. Whilst The Kind Words biggest weakness is it’s length, it could have done with a slightly quickened pace, it does pull successfully on the heartstrings of the audience.
The Kind Words is an effecting little melodrama, which deserves to be admired for portraying a modern Israeli family.