SYNONYMES (SYNONYMS) (France/Israel 2019) ****

Directed by Nadav Lapid

SYNONYMS is director Nadav Lapid’s new film after THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER which to me was mediocre but there are segments in SYNONYMES, supposedly based on the director’s own experiences that blew me away.  I describe two in the following paragraphs that absolutely blew me away.

The film follows young Israeli ex-soldier Yoav (played by newcomer Tom Mercier, in an incredible performance), who moves to Paris hoping to escape his national identity.  This where the film opens.  After his first night, Yoav wakes up naked in an empty apartment with all of his belongings gone, and is soon taken in by a neighbouring, young, wealthy couple.  Armed with a pocket-sized French dictionary, Yoav refuses to speak his native Hebrew as he desperately tries to immerse himself in French society.  Living on only a few francs a day, he bounces from job to job on a wildly erratic journey, attempting to assimilate into a seemingly impenetrable culture. 

SYNONYMS plays occasionally like a French version of Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER.  Yoav's character is incredibly vague and the film hints of his possible outbursts just as they occurred in the Robert De Niro taxi driver character. 

The strength of Lapid’s film lies in its unpredictability, in Yoav’s character in particular.  Does Yoav’s character end up violent and fucked up as in TAXI DRIVER?  Or is he something else.  In one of the film’s best moments set in a bar, Yoav witnesses Jewish abuse at a stranger but says nothing.  He then relates the story of his hero Hector of Troy and his battle against Achilles when Hector ran around nine days before facing Achilles.  Then you are a coward, retorts his friend.

The film’s other best scene is the seductive sexual scene between Yoav and Emile.   Director Lapid also blurs Yoav's sexual preferences.  Yoav is already shown at the film's start to be an incredibly sexy ex-soldier as depicted in full frontal nude scenes in the empty apartment where he douches.  They almost indulge in an erotic embrace while listening to classical music.  The beauty of it all is that the music is inaudible to the audience as the scene has Yoav and Emile wearing headphones.  But they moan in ecstasy for hearing the beautiful classics music which sounds also like two men having a sexual encounter.  Before anything can really happen. Caroline calls out to Emile.

Director Lapid realizes the power of musical numbers in film.  This he demonstrates in  two of the film’s energetic moments.  One is the rendering of the song by two women of “Hallelujah”  during  military funeral and the other, a hilarious segment (great camera work and editing by the director's mother here) where Yoav steals food in a club amidst beautiful ladies dancing to “Pump Up the Jam”.

SYNONYMS is one of the most spirited films of the year - never mind the theme or message, and a great pleasure to watch!

Trailer: https://cineuropa.org/fr/video/369704/rdid/365712/#cm (en franca is sans sous-titres anglaises)

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