Entertainment » Movies


by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Feb 25, 2020

In Nadav Lapid's "Synonyms," a young, sexy-as-fuck Israeli man, Yoav (Tom Mercier, in a truly astonishing debut performance) has just relocated to Paris, fleeing his country, and wanting desperately to assimilate into French culture. Alas, things are not quite that easy for our semi-angry, young antihero. On his very first day in the city of lights (while bathing in a friend's apartment) Yoav's clothes are stolen and he almost freezes to death. As luck (and many a "Jules et Jim"-esque French plot twist) would have it, he is saved by a young upper-class couple who also live in the building: a brooding, pretentious writer, Emile (Quentin Dolmaire), and his bored and perpetually perturbed girlfriend Caroline (Louise Chevillotte). The three become friends-ish, but both are (possibly unconsciously) using Yoav for their own selfish purposes (and a little bit of vice versa, although Yoav seems genuine and driven in almost everything he does and pursues).

Yoav's odyssey is a riveting and startling one as he becomes more alienated by the challenges that face his headstrong desire to shed his identity and establish a new one and he learns more and more that the country a person escapes to might just be as fucked up as the one he left.

For the most part, "Synonyms" bangs its own drum and feels refreshingly unique. There are many outstanding sequences including a bizarre "Pump Up the Jam" dance moment, as well as a fascinating scene where Yoav humiliates himself as an artist's model for hire, only to end with a cathartic primal scream in Hebrew, a language he vowed to never speak again.

The film's success rests on the titanic shoulders of Mercier, who delivers a bold, fearless turn that is absolutely mesmerizing. He explores all aspects of Yoav from his sensitivity to his volatility and does not shy away from the character's sensuality as well as his fluid sexuality.

This gem (co-written with his Lapid's father, Haim) is homoerotic as hell. One can feel the tremendous sexual energy between Yoav and every male character he's onscreen with. But the filmmaker refuses to take the queer content to what feels like an inevitable next level, despite the especially palpable sexual tension between Yoav and Emile. In one particularly potent moment, the two listen to music while they stare lovingly into one another's eyes, and even after Caroline interrupts them Emile shuts the door and the intimacy continues with a story Yoav tells about two convicted soldiers putting a grenade to their chests to die together. Yoav asks Emile if he would do that with Caroline, and he responds that he would do it with him. Another loving stare and then - the director cuts away!

Midway through the film, Lapid weaves the triangle aspect into a more conventional narrative and, instead of bravely exploring the same-sex relationship he's more than toyed with and set up, he cops out. A shame since the chemistry between Mercier and Dolmaire is off the charts (much more so than his chem with Chevillotte).

Interesting, one can also find much homoerotism throughout the director's first major International hit, the powerful "Policeman."

"Synonyms" was a 2019 New York Film Festival selection and, at the Q&A, co-writer/director Lapid admitted the film was "pretty autobiographical," but no one had the courage to ask him about the queer content. Had I attended in person I certainly would have. I hope his next feature goes all the way; pun intended.

Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray that shows off the often-dazzling visual style of the film as well as it's pulsating soundtrack.

Special Features include a 13-minute interview with Lapid as well as a much more in-depth, 54-minute NYFF conversation. Lapid discusses the autobiographical nature of the film as well as the sad news that his mother, Era Lapid, one of the film's editors, died right after cutting was completed. The filmmaker also expounds on Mercier's boundless talent, how Mercier was a judo champion who gave it up to become a dancer (and now actor) and that the actor seems to have no limits. The original trailer is also included.

"Synonyms" is a brazen dark comedy that blasts our ever-growing worldwide class divide and keenly satirizes notions of assimilation. It's a treat to watch from the eye-popping opening to the final ironic image. I highly recommend it.


Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He is also a proud Dramatists Guild member and a recipient of a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and the Chesley/Bumbalo Foundation Playwright Award for his play Consent, which was also a 2012 semifinalist for the O'Neill. His play, Vatican Falls, took part in the 2017 Planet Connections Festivity and Frank was nominated for Outstanding Playwriting. Lured was a semifinalist for the 2018 O'Neill and received a 2018 Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant. Lured will premiere in 2018 in NYC and 2019 in Rome, Italy. LuredThePlay.com


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