Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Original Title: Synonymes
France/Israel/Germany, 2019. SBS Films, Pie Films, Arte France Cinema, L’Aide aux Cinemas du Monde, Centre National du Cinema et de L’Image Animee, Institut Francais, ARTE, WDR / Arte, Filmforderungsanstalt, Komplizen Film. Screenplay by Nadav Lapid, Haim Lapid. Cinematography by Shai Goldman. Produced by Said Ben Said, Michel Merkt. Costume Design by Khadija Zeggai. Film Editing by Neta Braun, Francois Gedigier, Era Lapid. Toronto International Film Festival 2019.
Nadav Lapid scores big with his most challenging film yet, one whose protagonist is at turns charismatic, physically appealing and dangerously alienating. Yoav arrives in Paris from Tel Aviv, determined to leave his native country behind him, forgetting his culture and his language and focusing on becoming proficient in French. After a disastrous night in an empty apartment that sees him lose all his possessions, he befriends a neighbouring couple who give him clothes and money and become his friends. He gets work doing security for the Israeli embassy but it doesn’t pan out, he later poses for erotic photography to make a living but that is an emotionally devastating experience for him, for much as he paces the streets repeating as many words as he can learn in French, the past refuses to let him go. Colleagues at the embassy express the kind of macho, militaristic behaviour that he appears to be trying to escape (with the possibility of a traumatic experience in his past insinuated but never clarified), his father comes looking for him but Yoav refuses to speak Hebrew and won’t see him. Moving from scene to scene is an uncomfortable experience, there is little concern with making sure we fully understand what we are watching because details don’t matter: Yoav’s experience is an emotional one, and Lapid isn’t making a Dardennes brothers film that would pore over the minutiae employment or classes, he’s more interested in a state of mind; reportedly basing a great deal of this film on his own experience, the filmmaker captures his protagonist’s near madness by applying the free-wheeling camera techniques of Nouvelle Vague classics like Breathless to an exploration of a fractured, desperate psyche. Tom Mercier gives a marvelous performance in his film debut, physically confident and uninhibited but at the same time presenting a guarded and unavailable face that speaks of mysteries within, earning our sympathy for his plight but scary enough to risk losing it at many points throughout this upsetting but electrifying film.