Written by: Hannah Tran
Synonyms (Nadav Lapid) 2 out of 4 stars.
In Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s latest film, Synonyms, we follow the journey of a young Israeli man as he attempts to abandon his ingrained cultural identity in favor of a new one. As he navigates struggles with his new Parisian lifestyle composed of the relationships, language barriers and poverty that are made to typify the immigrant experience, Lapid reflects on his own experience of moving to Paris after his military service. But as our lead attempts to form a connection with his newly assumed French identity, I couldn’t help but feel the lack of connection between myself and the screen. Perhaps it was just lost in translation.
For what should be such a personal film, it too often feels impersonal. While lead actor Tom Mercier acts with a certain subtlety and rawness perfectly fitting to his character, he occasionally gets lost in the large and empty rooms and streets he finds himself in. Even the camerawork often chooses to frame the vastness of these places, big or small, before choosing to frame his individual emotions. And as demonstrated in a scene where his fellow-Israeli coworker sings aggressively in the faces of some fellow passengers of a subway, the Parisians aren’t looking to connect with these men.
Nevertheless, it would seem that Yoav does manage to form some sort of friendship with a young, beautiful couple who provide him with all the basic necessities of life. But while Yoav clearly has a palpable chemistry with the man, this connection festers out and manages to form into a seemingly baseless hookup with the woman. As with all the supporting characters, his connections to them seem disappointing in their futility. These new relationships are either focused on too much or too little and all at the wrong time.
But the lack of buildup with his relationships signals a larger structural problem within the plot. While most sequences play out smoothly and are mostly engaging, each section feels a little too self-contained to create any sort of meaningful momentum. There is little suspenseful buildup between any given point of action and, ultimately, it makes for a slow-moving, overly meditative movie that would benefit from clearer and more physical emotion. While Synonyms is blessed with a great cast, an interesting story, and a lucid and almost avant-garde vision, it never leans into these qualities as much as is possible. In the end, even its finest features are far more effective at establishing a lasting mood than a lasting meaning.