Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Synonymes. With Tom Mercier (Yoav), Quentin Dolmaire (Emile), and Louise Chevillotte (Caroline).

מילים נרדפות
France / Israel / Germany 2019
in French, 123’ · Colour
    Nadav Lapid
    Nadav Lapid, Haïm Lapid
Director of Photography
    Shaï Goldman
    Era Lapid, François Gédigier, Neta Braun
Sound Design
    Sandy Notarianni, Christophe Vingtrinier
    Marina Kertesz
Production Design
    Pascale Consigny
    Khadija Zeggaï
    Noa Yehonatan
Assistant Director
    Justinien Schricke
    Stéphane Batut, Orit Zulay
Production Manager
    Marianne Germain
    Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt
    Osnat Handelsman Keren, Talia Kleinhendler, Janine Jackowski, Jonas Dornbach, Maren Ade, Olivier Père, Rémi Burah
    Pie Films, Tel Aviv
    Komplizen Film, Berlin
    Arte France Cinema, Issy-les-Moulineaux
Tom Mercier (Yoav)
Quentin Dolmaire (Emile)
Louise Chevillotte (Caroline)
    DCP with English subtitles by Simon John seen at The School, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, 12 June 2019

Berlinale 2019: "In Paris, things do not exactly get off to a good start for Yoav. He knocks on the door of a flat, only to discover the place is empty and, while he is taking a bath there, his things are stolen. Yet this young Israeli had arrived with such great expectations. He is determined to get rid of his nationality as quickly as possible. For him, being Israeli is like a tumour that has to be surgically removed. Becoming French, on the other hand, would quite simply mean his salvation. In order to erase his origins, Yoav first tries to replace his language. From now on, he will not utter a single word of Hebrew. The dictionary becomes his constant companion. The necessary visits to the Israeli embassy annoy him; he finds his compatriots to be a total burden. But the naturalisation test also has its pitfalls. And the young French couple whom he befriends has some rather strange ideas about how to help him."

"Based on his own experiences, Nadav Lapid explores the challenges of putting down roots in a new place. His attempt to find himself awakens past demons and opens up an existential abyss. A tragicomic puzzle that wisely knows how to keep its secrets."

"Biography Nadav Lapid: Born in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1975, this director and screenwriter studied philosophy at Tel Aviv University. After military service, he moved to Paris before returning to Israel to take a degree at the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem. His short film Kvish (Road) screened in the 2005 Panorama. His debut feature film Policeman won the Special Jury Prize at Locarno in 2011 while The Kindergarten Teacher featured in the 2014 Semaine de la Critique at Cannes. In 2015, Lama? (Why?) screened in Berlinale Shorts. He is a recipient of the French Order Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres."

Filmography: 2003 Proyect gvul; short film 2005 Kvish (Road); short film 2006 Ha-chavera shell Emile (Emile’s Girlfriend); short film 2011 Policeman 2013 Footsteps in Jerusalem; documentary 2014 The Kindergarten Teacher · Love Letters to Cinema; short film · Lama?; short film 2016 The Diary of a Wedding Photographer; short film 2019 Synonymes (Synonyme)
. Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2019


Nadav Lapid won the Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival with his third feature film Synonymes, a compelling and unsettling film about Yoav, an Israeli man who settles in Paris wanting to wipe out his former identity like protagonists in existentialist works by Pirandello (The Late Mattia Pascal) and Antonioni (The Passenger). The film is shot on location with an approach of documentary realism, but events follow a dream logic with dimensions of mythology (in the beginning Yoav is naked like Adam), anarchism and surrealism (Yoav rejects his military past yet works at the Israeli embassy). In blatant contrast to Yoav's Israel-negation his compatriot Yaron indulges in jingoistic nationalism and wallows in Jewish martyrdom and paranoia. In another contrast Yoav's French friends Émile and Caroline are almost parodic dream incarnations of Parisian taste, culture, hospitality and savoir-vivre. Caroline even agrees to a green card marriage with Yoav. An unforgettable satirical highlight of the movie is the integration course, the cultural assimilation class, Léa Drucker appearing as the teacher. Having been banging his head against the wall Yoav has to admit that you cannot ignore your origins, and there is no escape from your identity. A hate as burning as his may be based on a profound disappointment in love. Tom Mercier in his debut role displays formidable presence and range from sensitivity to brutality, psychological depth to physical command. He is equally at ease clothed and naked, even in staged porn scenes he never loses his dignity. A revelation comparable with Marlon Brando.



A deeply unsettling Israeli drama about a young man, Yoav who has left Israel for good and is now settling in Paris. In the beginning he literally loses everything. He is naked and without any possessions like a newborn baby, and he starts learning French as a foreign language with the help of a pocket dictionary from which he discovers synonyms.

The approach is close to subjective. We experience things from Yoav's perspective, and there is no solid alternative perspective. Yoav is deeply disturbed, probably due to experiences in the Israeli military, but we do not learn the cause of his trauma. Yoav is constantly contradicting himself. He says that he is being persecuted by Israeli security forces, yet he seeks a job in the security of the Israeli General Consulate. There he refuses to speak Hebrew. In an action sequence involving the head of Israeli special operations there is a sense that Yoav has a past with that very unit. He certainly has the physique of an elite soldier.

Yoav is saved by the generous and original duo Émile and Caroline. They form a bi-romantic triangle, and Yoav and Caroline marry so that Yoav can stay in France as a French citizen. Émile is a writer, Caroline studies the oboe at the conservatory. Music is important in many ways. Besides the oboe piece Caroline is practising, Elgar's cello concerto, Mendelssohn's violin concerto, "Pump Up The Jam", "La Marseillaise" and "haTikvah" are among the key themes. Put to satirical use are Pink Martini's "Je ne veux pas travailler" and Milk and Honey's "Hallelujah".

An anthology piece in the movie is the French class for foreigners. The teacher (Léa Drucker) has a tough drill sergeant's stance in hammering the basics of French language, society and culture to the skulls of immigrants from all over the globe. The blood-thirsty lyrics of "La Marseillaise" sound particularly revolting in this context. On the other hand, everybody gets to sing songs in their respective languages. In many ways, the theme of language is central, as announced in the title of the film.

Associations run deep into history. Yoav's grandfather has arrived to Palestine from Lithuania. A constant reference is the battle of Hector and Achilles in The Iliad.

The role of Yoav is a remarkable breakthrough for Tom Mercier. In this assured debut role he displays a formidable range of expression from madness to serenity, from violence to compassion. He is comfortable in the nude, even in sequences where he performs for a pornographic film producer.

Yoav experiences a final nervous breakdown when the porn producer's female star, Yasmine from Lebanon, refuses to perform with him.

There is an original approach of black comedy in Synonymes, a disturbing film about a disturbed man.

Synonymes is an incoherent text which needs and deserves to be revisited.

Director: Nadav Lapid
Country: France, Israel, Germany
Year: 2019
Duration: 2.03
Languages: French, Hebrew, English / subtitles in English
Original name: Synonymes
Category: Gems of New Cinema

Winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival, Synonyms is an astonishingly original and sometimes tragicomic slap on the structures of Middle Eastern and Western identity. Israeli director Nadav Lapid doesn’t show mercy even to himself; he turns autobiographical elements into politically charged art of moments and encounters, rather than a solid narrative.

A robust stranger walking the streets of Paris has a dream: one day to be buried in the city of love as a true countryman! He must shake off the remains of his shameful motherland and adopt the new country with a humble heart. Language is his most important weapon; a reliable friend with a book of words. He meets helpful people and exploiters, each a joker in their own life.

In the end, everyone gets their fair share in front of Lapid’s camera; from militant masculinity to the petty bourgeoisie of Parisian bohemians. Few actors dare to go through themselves and dive into a role with such dedication as the director’s find, first-timer Tom Mercier, who really gives his everything to be the man without a past. (MM)

Ohjaaja: Nadav Lapid
Maa: Ranska, Israel, Saksa
Vuosi: 2019
Kesto: 2.03
Kielet: ranska, heprea, englanti / tekstitys englanniksi
Alkup. nimi: Synonymes
Kategoria: Uuden elokuvan helmet

Berliinin elokuvajuhlien Kultaisen karhun voittaja Synonyms on ällistyttävän omaperäinen ja hetkittäin nerokas tragikoominen läpäytys niin Lähi-idän kuin länsimaisen identiteetin rakennelmalle. Ohjaaja, israelilainen Nadav Lapid ei armahda edes itseään vaan luo omaelämänkerrallisista aineksista poliittisesti virittynyttä, tilanteiden ja kohtaamisten taidetta eheän tarinan sijaan.

Pariisin katuja tallaavalla raamikkaalla muukalaisella on unelma, tulla jonakin päivän kuopatuksi aitona maamiehenä rakkauden kaupunkiin! On pyyhittävä pois häpeällisen synnyinmaan rippeet ja omaksuttava uusi nöyränä. Tärkein ase on kieli, luotettavin ystävä kirja sanoineen. Vastaan tulee auttajia ja riistäjiä, kukin oman elämänsä narreja.

Lopulta kaikki saavat Lapidin kameran edessä osansa; militantista maskuliinisuudesta pariisilaiseen pikkuporvarilliseen boheemistoon. Ja harva uskaltaa heittäytyä rooliin yhtä antaumuksella kuin ohjaajan löytö, ensikertalainen Tom Mercier, joka todella näyttelee koko varustuksellaan miestä vailla menneisyyttä. (MM)

Tel Avivissa 1975 syntynyt NADAV LAPID on opiskellut filosofiaa ja historiaa kotikaupungissaan sekä kirjallisuutta Ranskassa. Hän toimi kulttuuri- ja urheilutoimittajana ennen kuin ryhtyi elokuva- ja tv-arvostelijaksi. Julkaistuaan ensimmäisen novellikokoelmansa 2001 Lapid voitti Cannesissa elokuvaopintojen valmistumisvuonnaan 2006 Cinéfondationin palkinnon kolmannella lyhytfilmillään Emile’s Girlfriend. Esikoispitkä Policeman (Sodankylässä 2012), kuvaus ”israelilaisesta terrorismista ja luokkataistelusta”, oli heti kansainvälinen festivaalija arvostelumenestys. Ennen Synonymsiä syntynyt kertomus lapsinerosta, The Kindergarden Teacher (2014), sai neljä vuotta myöhemmin yhtä arvostetun amerikkalaisversion.




present a film by

Nadav Lapid

123 min / France – Israel – Germany / 2018 / SCOPE / 5.1


Yoav, a young Israeli, turns up in Paris,  hopeful that France and French will save him  from the madness of his country.


Synonyms was inspired by your stay in Paris in the early 2000s. Can you tell us about that time in your life?

Eighteen months after completing my military service, I started studying philosophy at Tel Aviv university. I wrote on sports in a hip weekly and I began writing short stories. At the time, cinema was of no particular interest to me, and overall life was beautiful. But one day, as if I had heard a voice out of nowhere, like Joan of Arc or Abraham the patriarch, I realized I had to leave Israel. Leave right then, immediately and forever. Uproot myself from the country, flee, save myself from an Israeli destiny. Ten days later, I landed at Charles-de-Gaulle airport. I chose France because of my admiration for Napoleon, my passion for Zidane, and a couple of Godard movies I had seen two months earlier. I had basic French, no permit or visa, and I knew no one. But I was determined never to come back. To live and die in Paris.

I refused to speak Hebrew. I cut all ties with Israelis. I devoted myself completely to the obsessive reading of a French dictionary, and a few odd jobs to get by. I lived in poverty and solitude. I counted every cent. I ate the same meal every day—the simplest and cheapest I could come up with.

One day, I made a friend, a French friend, the best friend I ever had. A strong bond developed between us, despite and perhaps because of the disparity—socially, culturally and mentally—between us. In my eyes, he was the ultimate Frenchman, whom I wanted to resemble with all my heart, while also wanting, with my Napoleonic and adolescent megalomania, to outstrip and subdue him.

It was at that time that you discovered the cinema and cinephilia.

Yes, thanks to my friend and Paris, I came to see cinema as essential, absolutely vital. He taught me what a shot, a scene and a single-shot scene were. He taught me that cinema could be a subject of thought and debate. He showed me that the only thing as beautiful as a beautiful film is the ability to talk about the film, dissect the film and write about the film.

Besides that, life in Paris was difficult, especially on a mental level. Poverty, monotony, marginality. My French fantasies drifted ever farther away, even as my French became ever more refined. In the end, I decided to apply to La Femis, a school that I pictured as a gateway to cinema, France and French cinema. I was rejected at the very last stage of the admissions process. Looking back now, I realize I was insufficiently trained. That’s when an Israeli publishing house decided to release a collection of my short stories. Paris seemed like a dead end to me. With a sense of total defeat, I turned my back on France and returned to Israel.

Synonyms seems to dialogue with your previous films: Yoav is the child’s name in The Kindergarten Teacher (2014), his friends Emile and Caroline have the same first names as the protagonists in the short feature, Emile’s Girlfriend (2006), and the virile rituals of masculinity are an extension of those in Policeman (2011). Do you see each film as part of a single work of art?

Even if I don’t plan it that way, clearly my films—shorts as much as features—make up a single movement. They all speak the same phrases with the same music. Naturally, there are tactical variations and nuances that reflect different stages of life—different angles and perspectives, themes observed sometimes from the left, sometimes from the right. Almost unwittingly, intuitively, I choose the same names over and over. And if that’s how it is, why hide it? If these are the same people, why give them different names?

Yoav’s obsession with suppressing his Israeli past and becoming French manifests itself through language first and foremost. Why?

I think that language is the most intrinsic thing we have that we can change. It is difficult to change our bodies. The past cannot be changed. Yoav’s body contains his past. It contains his essential nature, which he wishes to decapitate. I remember myself at the time mumbling French words like a prayer. The French language was my redemption.

As time goes by, Yoav is confronted by the disconnect between his French identity fantasy and real life. He realizes it might all end as it began—at a closed door. His attempts to avoid that abyss result in his language becoming increasingly radical. Radical in the sense of a desperate attachment to the words, syllables, diction and sounds of French. To that French prayer. Words become more important than sentences or context. Words rebel against their meaning. This is, moreover, a characteristic stage in a breakdown.

In aesthetic terms, the street scenes and the shaky camera that accompanies Yoav, switching in a single shot, from a subjective point of view to an external point of view, expresses a disorientation with regard to reality...

As expressed by the catchphrase of German expressionist painters—paint not the passing car but the feeling experienced as it passes—my film endeavors to film not views of Paris, but feelings experienced by Yoav, or myself, when walking in the city. Yoav’s gaze is that of the person who does not want to see. At the beginning of the film, he refuses to look up to take in the Seine because he is looking for ano-ther, authentic, intimate Paris, not tourist Paris. He is looking for the city you feel or sense without looking, without using your eyes, when your head is tilted toward the sidewalk and your mouth utters a constant stream of synonyms. How do you film a gaze that does not look at the city? Or looks at it differently? I have a sense that Yoav wants to create his own Paris, hoping that one day, he will be able to belong to it. It is also an attempt on my part to find my Paris, a city that has been filmed by so many French and foreign filmmakers.

The shots of Yoav’s wanderings were filmed with a small, cheap, almost primitive camera and a small crew—actor, cameraman, sound recordist and me. That intimacy allowed us to really feel things. I wanted those feelings, those tremblings, to be felt also by the body of the person filming, me or the cameraman, as well as by the body of the camera itself. There is no reason to film a trembling man in a squared off, stable way. On the contrary, you need to tremble with him. If, in those moments, cinema is also movement, choreography, there is no reason for the camera not to dance along with it.

The story of Hector and Achilles at the siege of Troy captures what is at work within the film itself. Why use that story?

By identifying with Hector, even at age four, Yoav is already in revolt against the Israeli ethos—which is not only an ethos of victory, but also of absolute prohibition of defeat. In Israel, we were all raised that way, and it’s something we still believe. We have no right to lose, not even once. France, for example, has lost on several occasions. And it is still here. But for us, losing is synonymous with the end. That’s why identifying with a loser is a revolt against the eternal sacralization of victory and the mythical perception of the victor as a hero. Some people might be inclined to link this Israeli taboo, this deep-rooted anxiety about the possibility of defeat, with the tragic Jewish experience, especially in the 20th century.

Yoav deliberately takes the side of the losers, but Hector is not only beaten by Achilles, the stronger man. Hector is beaten by a heroine who is even more terrifying that Achilles—death itself. Death, as Yoav understands at age four, is stronger even than heroism. Yoav has carried death on his back from that age. I also think that Yoav’s unconscious (or conscious perhaps) choice of an existential reference drawn from Greek mythology rather than the bible (the «natural» choice for an Israeli), is the already an outsider’s choice.

Synonyms offers a relatively morose depiction of French bourgeoisie. Caroline and Emile, for example, form a quite jaded couple. They seem to want to help Yoav, but in fact they take advantage of his presence to add spice to their relationship.

Within the Yoav-Emile-Caroline triangle, a delicate, fragile tension develops between personal interest, exploitation, fascination and genuine love for each other. This tension also symbolizes the affection-rejection relationship between Israel and France.

Yoav’s body is also the theatre of a war between Israeli and French core values. He is surrounded by people who represent one side or the other. Yaron and Emile, for example. Past memories on one side, present images on the other. Yoav progresses between his Israeli body and his French words. In that respect, it is hardly coincidental that he tortures his body, that he fights his body.

Tom Mercier, who plays Yoav, is a true revelation. How did you find him? How did you prepare him for the role?

Tom was at drama school when he came for an audition for Synonyms. The stories and legends people tell about film auditions have almost become clichés, but Tom’s audition really was an extraordinary experience, totally unforgettable for me and my casting director, Orit Azulay. Even after working with thousands of actors, she was left in shock. When Tom left the room, we canceled the rest of the day’s auditions. We simply needed to go for coffee and think over what we had just seen. It was not necessarily the quality of his performance, but his presence—an astonishing blend of complete freedom and near-obsessive attention to detail. It was a savage, brutal, violent, sensitive and volatile mixture. With a playful, vulnerable and charismatic aspect. And a sexuality that is impossible to classify or catalogue. The mixture of all that was in fact Tom himself. Usually, after an audition, actors will try to connect with the director or, conversely, keep their distance to protect themselves. When Tom finished his audition, which needs to be shown because some things he did were magnificent, some of his improvisation was wonderful—and usually I don’t like improvisation. He did things that were strange, liberated, wild, and the very second it was over, he simply said Shalom, and walked out. No attempt to bond.

Beyond all his qualities and talent, Tom is the most immediate and genuine actor I have ever encountered. He is nothing but truth. His investment in the film was total and, to some extent, he went through the same process as I did when I was in Paris at the same age. He learned French by immersing himself totally in the language. He moved to Paris and cut himself off completely from Israel. Now, a year after the shoot, he still lives in France. I think that his great creativity, his sincerity and inventiveness inspired in me a kind of vitality and liberty on set. It allowed me to veer toward the unplanned, unexpected, or savage. I advanced with my detailed, precise shot breakdown, and the total lack of planning that Tom embodied.

Now that the film is finished, do you feel you have overcome your neurosis, the fracture linked to your dual relationship to France and Israel?

I cannot say with any degree of certainty, but I suppose that sharing one’s neuroses with others through art is a form of therapy.



2016  The Diary of a wedding photographer (short, 40’)Cannes Film Festival 2016 – International Critic’s Week (special screening)2015   Lama (short, 5‘)Berlin International Film Festival 2015 – Berlinale Shorts2014  The Kindergarten teacher (feature, 119’)Cannes Film Festival 2014 – International Critic’s Week BAFICI 2015  – Best Director  Sevilla European Film Festival 2014 – Silver Giraldillo Taipei Film Festival – Best Film International Goa Film Festival – Best Director and Best Actress 2013  Footsteps in Jerusalem (collectivedocumentary)Short film:  Amunition Hill2011  Policeman (feature, 105’)Locarno Festival 2011 – Special Jury Prize BAFICI 2012 – Best Film and Best Director San Francisco International Film Festival 2012 – Best Film Philadelphia Film Festival 2011 – Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature2006  Ha-Chavera shell Emile (short, 48’)Cannes Film Festival 2006 - Cinéfondation selection 2005  Kvish (short, 17’)Berlin International Film Festival 2015 – Panorama selection2003  Proyect Gvul (collectiveshort, 40’)Short film: Mahmud works in the industryCannes Film Festival2004 - Cinéfondation selection


Yoav Tom MercierEmile Quentin DolmaireCaroline Louise Chevillotte


Director   Nadav LapidWriters   Nadav Lapid, Haïm LapidProducers   Saïd Ben Saïd & Michel Merkt – SBS FilmsCo-Producers   Osnat Handelsman Keren & Talia Kleinhendler –    Pie  Films   Janine Jackowski, Jonas Dornbach, Maren Ade –    Komplizen  Film Cinematographer   Shaï GoldmanEditor    Era Lapid, François Gédigier, Neta BraunSound Designer    Marina Kertész, Sandy Notarianni,  Christophe VingtrinierSet Designer   Pascale ConsignyCostume Designer   Khadija ZeggaïProduction Manager   Marianne Germain1st Assistant Director   Justinien SchrickeInternational Sales   SBS International

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