The Kind Words feels like two different movies — because it’s about two different worlds.
First slowly and then with increasing speed, like a melancholy wind-up toy, Shemi Zarhin’s film follows Dorona (Rotem Zissman-Cohen), an Israeli Jew, and her two brothers as their life story unravels. Dorona feels stuck — sad because she can’t bear a child and dissociated from her husband. She goes to her mother for comfort in the wake of her parents’ separation, and her mother tells her to grow up — then dies.
Next: Her dad reveals that someone else must have been her biological father. At this point, the film develops a sense of humor. Dorona and her brothers go to France in search of their mother’s Algerian lover, whom they’ve just discovered. The chemistry between the siblings carries the film; they share a rich banter and subtle physical affection that feels real, built on years of shared intimacy — and this new experience of ignorance.
Their journey, a tired slog in the sunshine up and down cobbled streets, is silly with exhaustion, animated with the sweet mania at the end of a long night. Zissman-Cohen’s subtle features and the way they flood with repressed feeling make each moment a separate, fully formed shard in a disjointed mosaic of emotional truth.
In Hebrew and in French, between life and death, the siblings reckon with a question that the film wants to be larger than it is: If their real father is an Algerian Muslim, who are they? The fact is, they’re already grown, and the most compelling questions are ordinary. Those questions are worth asking, but the way to answer them is just by living — which they do.
The Kind Words
Directed by Shemi Zarhin
Opens June 24, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 23, 2016