(director/writer: Naday Lapid; screenwriter: Haim Lapid; cinematographer: Shaï Goldman; editors: Era Lapid, François Gédigier, Neta Braun; cast: Tom Mercier (Yoav), Quentin Dolmaire (Emile), Louise Chevillotte(Caroline), Uria Hayik (Yaron), Léa Drucker  French Teacher); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt; Kino Lorber; 2019-France/Israel/Germany-in French & Hebrew with English subtitles)

“A unique blend of drama and comedy.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Israeli auteur Naday Lapid (“Policeman”/”The Kindergarten Teacher”) is writer-director of this bold, breathtaking, fast paced and divisive film on alienation. It’s a unique blend of drama and comedy, that offers a strange narrative that is both incomprehensible and pleasurable. It’s co-written by Naday and his father, the social psychologist, Haim Lapid. The story is partly based on Naday’s past experience as an Israeli who moved to Paris and refused to speak Hebrew. It plays out as an in your face political parody taking a swipe at the macho rep of the Israeli soldier and the madness that has his country locked into a never-ending war. It’s the first film Naday shot outside of Israel.

The central character Yoav (Tom Mercier, a newcomer), a twentysomething Israeli soldier, who after he finishes his national military obligation on a whim travels to Paris to start a new life. For some crazy reason Yoav believes becoming French is his only hopefor salvation (imagining it to be a utopia) and that his first step in the process of changing countries is learning French and not speaking Hebrew anymore. Yoav thereby walks through the streets of Paris muttering synonyms from the French dictionary he possesses until he reaches the house where he rented an apartment in an upscale neighborhood by the Seine. But the spacious apartment is empty and not fit to be lived in. When Yoav showers a burglar enters and runs off with all of his possessions.

Left completely naked during the winter in a strange city and unable to get help, puts the expat in an awkwardly helpless situation. He thereby retreats in a stupor to sleep in the tub, until found in a frozen condition the next day by his neighbors, a young French bourgeois couple, the aspiring writer Emile (Quentin Dolmaire) and his oboist wife Caroline (Louise Chevillotte). Emile’s a person of means, writing a book entitled Night Of Inertia, and befriends his new neighbor by lending him clothes to wear that includes a mustard-colored coat that the ex-soldier is fond of (but which makes him stick out as an outsider). The couple reach out to make Yoav an integral part of their life.

We follow Yoav around as he forges a new identity while speaking ill of Israel and finding all sorts of odd jobs, not realizing he might have only changed one country (or a soldier’s uniform) for another country (or the dress of a cosmopolitan European) and each is far from perfect.This seems to be the theme, and the reason the film is defined by its title Synonyms.

It works so well despite its turn off of contentious polemics because of Mercier’s brilliantly controlled manic performance, which gives it an edge. Also because the story not only doesn’t make sense but nevertheless makes absolute sense when it warns us not to be misled by thinking someone can truly be identified by the country they come from.

It won the Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI Award (at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival).

Synonyms (2019)

REVIEWED ON 10/16/2019       GRADE: B