With his sixth feature-length film, director Shemi Zarhin doesn’t break new cinematic ground, although there is a certain charm to his storytelling. The Kind Words follows the journey of 3 siblings trying to uncover their mother’s hidden past, and the shocking revelations that come with it.
After it is discovered that Yona (Levana Finkelstein) has a tumour, her whole family comes to the hospital to comfort her. Here her adult children Dorona (Rotem Wissman-Cohen), Netanel (Roy Assaf) and Shai (Assaf Ben-Shimon) make contact with their estranged father whose remarriage to a much younger actress is met with contempt. Whilst Yona undergoes an operation to remove the tumour we see their father unsuccessfully attempt to reach out to the children multiple times, however even through the feelings of disdain the siblings show their inherent kindness with the offering of food as they all wait nervously for the results of the operation. It is not until after the tragic death of her mother does Dorona begrudgingly agree to hear him out and what she learns will change her and her brother’s lives forever.
Initially when her father reveals his infertility Dorona scoffs but seconds later the reality of what has been said begins to slowly sinks in. If he is infertile she can’t be his daughter, nor can Netanel and Shai be his sons. Here starts a voyage of discovery which will take the siblings away from their home, Jerusalem, to Paris and then Marseille in hopes of learning the truth. There are pacing issues though which sometimes cause the intended sense of urgency on their quest for the truth to come off as nothing more than comedic hijinks.
The serious heart of the film is balanced with light-hearted humour to bring the family closer during times of grieving often in the form of bickering and sarcasm. This adds another layer to the characters as we learn more about their lives such as Netanel’s exaggerated religious beliefs to please his wife and the views they share on their homeland. In the latter stages of the film the humour endangers the harsh nature of the plot undoing the complexity preceding it nevertheless the film hits the mark for the most part.
Fertility is a major issue tackled throughout the film by Shemi Zarhin, who also wrote the script, with Dorona becoming isolated from the rest of her family. After a series of miscarriages she has seemingly given up hopes of raising children opting to also stop the adoption process. All around her are reminders of what could be, Natanel with triplets, Shai even has a child before an awakening in sexuality and their mother Yona joked about looking pregnant whilst denying the existence of the tumour. Her only equal is her ‘father’, whose inability to have children offers her slight comfort as she tries to uncover her mother’s secret life.
The climax to The Kind Words is messy yet generic, leaving the audience with more questions than answers. Whether or not the film will strike enough of a cord to make you ponder those questions remains to be seen. Zarhin is a distinguished director deep into his career but you can’t help feeling disappointed by the somewhat bland and worn formula he uses.