Thursday, November 14, 2019

BERLINALE: WE HAVE A WINNER!

February 17, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Tom Mercier in Synonyms

Aligning themselves with most critics, the jurors at the Berlin Film Festival have awarded the festival’s top prize, the Golden Bear, to Israeli Director Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms (Synonymes). The film follows a disaffected young Israeli man, a former IDF soldier (Tom Mercier), who becomes incensed by his country’s treatment of Palestinians and moves to Paris in an effort to reject everything about himself that is Israeli, beginning with his Hebrew language. While he encounters a welcoming couple, Paris for him turns out to be mostly a hostile city. There is an especially poignant scene in which Mercier’s character, who has distanced himself from Israel and its military policies by 10,000 miles is required to recite the words of “Le Marseilles,” the French national anthem, during a class preparing him for French citizenship. The words seem downright bloodthirsty: “Grab your weapons, citizens/Form your battalions/Let us march! Let us march!/May impure blood/Water our fields!”

The film, which received significant funding from the government of Israel and Israeli investors, is certain to attract considerable controversy in that country, particularly among right-wing supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, in an interview with Variety, Lapid said, “I don’t think [‘Synonyms’] is a political movie. I think that ideas, opinions, thoughts are mixed in the film. It won’t be voting in elections. It’s an attempt to talk about this special existence.” Later, In accepting the Golden Bear trophy, Lapid remarked: “Perhaps there are people who see this film as a scandal, but for me this film is a celebration of cinema.” 

Critics mostly agreed. Indiewire.com’s David Ehrlich called Synonyms “astonishing, maddening, brilliant, hilarious, obstinate, and altogether unmissable.” And Variety’s Jay Weissberg remarked, “This uncategorizable cinematic trip will polarize critics and audiences alike, with some reading it as indulgent, disjointed excess and others admiring the sheer fearlessness of it all.”