Wednesday, June 22, 2016

An Israeli gem worth treasuring: Shemi Zarhin's family road trip, THE KIND WORDS

A trio of grown children get a surprise jolt about their parentage in one of this year's most joyous and enjoyable movies, the new film from Israeli writer/director Shemi Zarhin, who, a decade or so back, gave us the lovely Bonjour, Monsieur Sholmi. His latest work -- THE KIND WORDS -- is even better: one of the most beautifully acted family comedy-dramas I can recall in a long while, and one that always maintains its grip on reality, no matter how bizarre the situation appears to grow.

This is due to absolutely spot-on and first-rate dialog, and characterizations of the four family members -- two brothers, a sister and a brother-in-law -- that are so precisely attuned to the way siblings (along with that one slightly outsider) act and think and feel that the movie, at times, is often so specific and real that it will make you shiver. I can only assume that Mr. Zarhin, shown at right, is himself a sibling and perhaps from this kind of large family. If not, he is just about the most astute observer of this special sort of sibling behavior that one could possibly imagine.

He gets enormous help, it must be said, from his fine cast, who bounce off each other with the kind of grace and ease that seem to have come from decades of sibling competition, interaction and love. How this little group speaks, touches, watches and understands each other is so full of specificity, history and especially humor that near-constant delight is served up.

The cast includes as the three siblings (above, clockwise from top) the hunky/funny Roy Assaf (seen just last week as the weakling hero of Wedding Doll), Assaf Ben-Shimon (playing, and very well, the bisexual brother with a child living in Bulgaria), and the standout Rotem Zissman-Cohen as their angry, witty, frustrated sister. The smart and stable brother-in-law Ricky, played with infinite patience and caring by Tsahi Halevi, is shown at left, two photos above, while that sort-of father, whom we warm up to more and more as the film frolics along, is played by Sasson Gabai, below.

The story? Via a sudden revelation by their "father" followed by some astute investigation (all three of these kids are bright), the siblings discover that their paternity may lie elsewhere, perhaps in France. The movie takes us from Israel to Paris to Marseilles, from posh hotel to hospital, dance club, sauna, the home of a famous actress and a very unusual restaurant.

All along the way, our delightful quartet of kids -- plus their tag-along dad -- keeps us chuckling, smarting and hoping for some kind of closure for them all. How that closure finally comes is, I suspect, nothing like what you will expect -- or even imagine that you want. But filmmaker Zarhin is determined to make us consider and wonder and finally appreciate what our inner and most secret lives -- and those of our parents -- might actually be about.

Some secrets need to stay secret, in fact, and that "identity" we seek can as often be based on things outside our own body and mind (and control), so it is salutary to occasionally be reminded of this. Which is something that The Kind Words -- damned few of which are uttered throughout the movie, which is perhaps another of the filmmakers' points and is all to the good, so far as expert entertainment is concerned -- manages in spades.

The movie -- a delicious road trip that takes in themes of Jewish and Arab identity, GLBT concerns, history, religion, orthodoxy and so much more -- refuses to indulge us in any expected happy ending (it does not offer up an unhappy one, either), and it is all the better, smarter and special for this refusal.

From Strand Releasing, in Hebrew and French and English subtitles, and running a long but consistently enjoyable two hours, The Kind Words opens this Friday, June 24, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles on July 1 at Laemmle's Royal and Town Center theaters. Here in South Florida the film opens on July 22 at Miami's Bill Cosford Cinema and at the Cinema Paradiso in Hollywood. Elsewhere? Absolutely. Click here and then scroll down to the task bar midway and click on Screenings.

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