Review by Sean Boelman
Synonyms, directed and co-written by Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid, is a semi-autobiographical tragicomedy inspired by Lapid’s experiences of moving to Paris. Featuring one of the most personal and effective scripts of the year, this is certainly one of the most wonderful films to come out this year.
The film follows an Israeli young man as he moves to Paris, embarrassed of his Israeli identity and in search of a fresh start. This story, although familiar, is presented with such a fresh and interesting perspective that it manages to feel entirely personal and emotionally involving. In this era in which people are becoming more and more disillusioned with their country and themselves, this film is likely to connect with audiences in an unexpected way.
Some of the most interesting portions of this film deal with the protagonist’s specific identity crisis. Although viewers everywhere can relate to some aspects of the character’s experiences, there are certain portions of the film that are connected directly to the filmmaker’s Israeli origins, and these are the portions of the film that are more likely to stick with audiences and start a conversation.
Lapid’s approach to this story is extremely interesting as he balances multiple different tones. By blending elements of serious drama and fish-out-of-water comedy, Lapid is able to make the emotional beats hit even harder than they otherwise would. The subtle humor provides a much-needed relief from the tension of the protagonist trying to find his footing in an unfamiliar world.
Because of the personal touch which Lapid infused into the script, the protagonist is immediately sympathetic. The key to this film’s effectiveness is the disillusionment and confusion that the protagonist experiences, and Lapid builds the character in a way that sells those feelings to the audience.
First-time actor Tom Mercier does an absolutely phenomenal job bringing these emotions to life. There is so much depth and nuance to the character, and Mercier is able to pull it off in a way that feels honest and completely natural. He has a natural charm and charisma about him that helps make the character feel more approachable and lovable.
On a technical level, the film is excellent. Lapid makes some very interesting choices with the cinematography and sound design that will provoke thought regarding what the audience is seeing on screen. The cinematography by Shai Goldman is affecting, often beautiful but sometimes perfectly horrifying, highlighting the frustration being experienced by the characters.
Synonyms is a difficult film to describe because filmmaker Nadav Lapid is able to do so much with it so well that no words could possibly do justice to the brilliance that is shown on screen. Effective in more ways than one, this is a film that simply demands to be experienced and will likely stick with audiences long after the credits have rolled.
Synonyms is now playing in theaters.