Synonyms (Synonymes) press conference with Nadav Lapid, Haïm Lapid, Tom Mercier and Louise Chevillotte
At Berlinale’s press conference for Synonyms, the story of an expatriate starting anew in Europe, director Nadav Lapid was asked about his own experience leaving Israel and whether there is something specific about the Israeli identity that is impossible to fully relinquish. The filmmaker explained that he wouldn’t describe the feature as “auto-fiction”, but that “all the things in the movie are based on things that more or less happened”. After moments of solitude in Paris, he met the best of friends. His aspiration was not to put his life on the screen but to invoke the fact that each person’s life can be a window through which to observe the universe.
Just like in the film (though almost 20 years ago), Lapid finished his military service and went back to Tel Aviv, where “life was nice”. Then he heard a voice, a little like Joan of Arc, and realised that he must leave Israel and run away. He described the feeling of wanting to save himself and go elsewhere. Ten days later he ended up at Charles de Gaulle airport. He didn’t know anyone. He only had the desire to live and die in Paris, to stop being Israeli and start being French.
Everything during the period was urgent and violent for the filmmaker, something which is emulated in the movie’s jolting camerawork. The auteur felt that his detachment must be harsh: “It’s not enough to take a flight. The thing that was harshest for me was the sacrifice of the language. I refused to say one single word in Hebrew.”
Lapid was asked about the trend of Israelis moving back to Europe. He admitted, “For me, the surprising thing is the percentage of Israelis who are not going to Europe, who stay, and obey, and respect, and identify with a political situation which should be unacceptable. Yes, there’s a lot of politics and the provocation of political ideas. But I don’t think it’s a political movie. The film is not voting in the elections. Although it may have a provocative side, it is not a right-wing or a left-wing film.”
Tom Mercier explained his understanding of the character: “This relationship is beginning when I am spiritually dead. It is like the characters of Camus.” Louise Chevillotte, who plays Caroline, explained the political implications of the film. Rather than opposites, she saw the countries as mirrors of one another.
The panel discussed the criticism but also attachment to Israel that exists in Synonyms. Lapid wasn’t trying to make a simple political declaration: “All the countries in the world are complicated and Israel is a country in a hard phase in its history. There is a lot of brutality and this brutality I tried to show in my film. At the same time, it contains strong emotion. The violence and hostility towards Israel wouldn’t be so strong if it didn’t have this attachment. It’s not my role to say how the Ministry of Culture sees this movie. I hope that Israeli people will look at the film with all its complexity and layers.” One of the writers, Haïm Lapid added, “I would like to point out that there are other perspectives. For example, you can look at it as a story of a stranger in a new place.”
When asked if the Israeli identity was one that was particularly hard to shake, Lapid candidly said that he didn’t know, but “the film talks about the identity of our past. I think these are questions that concern people all over the world. Israel is a country that demands from you a total love. A love without reserves or questions. Total fidelity. You can see it in the Israeli characters in the movie. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to detach yourself from this identity.”
Lapid was also asked about the more literary dimension to the film. For Yaev, “life is difficult. In moments that seem most abstract, I will have to find the simplest solution. That is also a kind of love and poetry for the French. Every word coming out if his mouth is something he feels twice, once with his mind and once with his tongue. Words are words but they are also music. In this sense, it is a literary film, but it is also a musical film.”
Photo: Thomas Niedermueller/ Getty Images
Synonyms (Synonymes) does not have a UK release date yet. Read our review here.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Synonyms (Synonymes) here: