FC@Berlin 2019, Dispatch 9 – The provocative, thrilling ‘Synonyms’

Posted on February 16, 2019

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Read the full article on Film Companion, here: https://www.filmcompanion.in/berlin-film-festival-2019-review-baradwaj-rangan-synonyms/

Plus, games with death, Catherine Deneuve’s latest, and cult films by Bette Gordon and Derek Jarman.

Yoav (Tom Mercier) moves from Israel to France, finds a place to stay, and when he steps out after a bath, he finds his clothes have been stolen. After a futile search (and how much searching can you do, after all, when you’re stark naked?), he returns to the flat, lies in the bathtub and passes out. The next morning, he’s found by a wealthy Parisian couple — Emile (Quentin Dolmaire) and Caroline (Louise Chevillotte) — who live in the same building. They revive him (bring him back to life, in a manner of speaking), feed him, clothe him. Yoav is “reborn” in Paris, which is very much part of his agenda (and the film’s rampant symbolism). He has renounced Israel. He won’t speak Hebrew anymore. But here’s the thing. When Emile was carrying Yoav to his flat, he noticed that Yoav was circumcised. Even with nothing on, the Jewish identity clings to Yoav. Will merely speaking in French make him, well, French?

Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms is nothing if not provocative — and autobiographical. The director, too, moved to Paris and refused to speak Hebrew, and his film language is similarly (and I think intentionally) “borrowed”. It’s French. It’s the New Wave. The softly sensual Emile (he’s a writer) looks like a character that might have been played by Jean-Pierre Léaud. The oddly bohemian relationship between Yoav and his new friends tips a beret to Jules and Jim, and even the guerilla shooting style is reminiscent of the films of the era. Perhaps even Yoav’s adoration of the Trojan warrior Hector is a nod to Godard’s use of Greek myths in films like Helas Pour Moi and Le Mépris. Synonyms is overlong and repetitive and sometimes wilfully obscure (it’s near-impossible to get in one go) — but every frame is charged with the break-all-rules aesthetic of the Nouvelle Vague, and it’s thrilling. It’s an adrenaline shot to the heart.

Continued at the link above.

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