Synonyms (Synonymes) is a tale of lost identity and new beginnings. The film – which is semi-autobiographical, loosely based on director Nadav Lapid’s rejection of his Middle Eastern origins – tracks Yaev, who arrives in Paris in the hopes of shirking his Israeli past. As if by magic, he appears in a beautiful apartment building only to have his last possessions stolen. He is left naked in a bathtub; the imagery is clear: he is to be reborn here.
Yaev commits himself to a total break from his former life, refusing to speak another word in Hebrew. To master French he learns the thesaurus. The expatriate roams the Parisian streets reciting synonyms. Frantic camerawork adds to the agitation of assimilation. There is a deliberate mixture of jolting hand-held camerawork which mimics the swift walks through the grey Parisian streets, slapping up and down with his legs. Quick pans zip up building facades to emulate Yaev’s fascination with scanning the new city. He is doomed to be the outsider looking in. The clichés of a glacial flâneur in Paris are met by a jittering visual code and a desperation to leave his identity behind.
The key issues with the picture are ostensibly purposeful. The style is haphazard and the plot wavers sinuously through the streets, letting the audience’s own mind wander. However, it is the story of a haphazard journey and a wavering path. How else could it be cinematically evoked? The lists of synonyms function as free associations reflecting the effects of the external world on the man’s psyche. The film is in dialogue with itself, accentuating the internal tension within Yaev alongside external political tensions. We never lose the first-person perspective which adds to the bubbling political backdrop.
Tom Mercier as Yaev brings a wondrous internal scope to the young man fleeing home. We are submerged into his curious perspective and never know if he is going to burst in anger, joy or incant a list of adjectives. Two flashback scenes transport us to his Israeli past and deliver a greater sense of shape. There is a clear transformation between who he was and is becoming. Mercier delivers Synonyms from its bland, recognisable plot and provides some much-needed consistency.
Synonyms (Synonymes) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch four clips from Synonyms (Synonymes) here: