Although Israeli-born filmmaker Nadav Lapid (The Kindergarten Teacher, Policeman) hasn’t made a ton of movies across his sixteen year career, his latest, Synonyms, should’ve been placed into the Masters section at TIFF this year. Synonyms (Lapid’s first feature since 2014) is one of the best films of the year, and the best of Lapid’s career thus far; an energetic, uncompromised, personal, and thoroughly captivating movie custom made for an era where nationalism and selfishness are at an all time high. Synonyms is as powerful as an atomic bomb and as open and honest as reading someone’s diary.
Pulling from some of his own experiences as a migrant, Lapid’s latest follows Yoav (Tom Mercier), who makes his way to Paris after fleeing Israel not long after his mandated stint in the national military. He ends up in an unfurnished apartment with no heat and has all of his belongings stolen almost immediately upon arrival. Yoav is helped and befriended by neighbours Emile (Quentin Dolmaire) and Caroline (Louise Chevillotte). Disillusioned by Israeli nationalism, Yoav refuses to speak Hebrew, even though his French isn’t that great. It’s a bit of a barrier when the only job he can land at first is working security at the Israeli consulate among co-workers who are still extremely prideful of their heritage. Yoav does his best to assimilate into French culture, but what he doesn’t realize is that he might be trading one form of nationalism for another.
Equal parts satire, character study, and low-key tragedy, Synonyms blazes across the screen with eye popping visuals, a kinetic hand-held aesthetic, and boundless energy and confidence. Yoav bounces around between socially and politically loaded situations like he’s the ball attached to a paddle board, growing increasingly mad in the process. Lapid empathizes and identifies with Yoav, making sure that the audience is able to stay on the character’s side even when his increasing instability and frustrations put him in physical and mental jeopardy. Lapid has also found a perfect collaborator in Mercier, who astoundingly have never acted in a film before. It’s one of the most captivating debut performances I’ve ever seen, and one that anchors an already perfect film.