BERLIN (Reuters) – Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s “Synonyms”, an anarchic story about an Israeli who tries to suppress his origins after moving to Paris, won the Berlin Film Festival’s coveted Golden Bear award on Saturday.
Nadav Lapid shows Golden Bear for Best Film after the awards ceremony at the 69th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
The film, a faintly comedic, nearly plotless study of identity and the ambivalence of national belonging, tells the story of Yoav, played by newcomer Tom Mercier, and his struggle to reinvent himself as French.
Mastering the language is part of that task, and Yoav is shown muttering French synonyms in an attempt to displace his native Hebrew as he bonds with a young, wealthy Parisian couple, played by Quentin Dolmaire and Louise Chevillotte.
Lapid dedicated the film to his mother Era Lapid, who edited his films until her death.
“We edited this movie between editing room and hospitals,” he told Reuters. “It was a kind of competition between death and completing the movie. And death won.”
Mercier’s kinetic performance of a character determined to excise what he sees as an Israeli culture of machismo from his soul has been widely praised. But his attempts at reinventing himself also reveal much about French social mores.
Acknowledging that the film would be controversial in both countries, he pleaded for audience understanding as he accepted the award.
“I hope that people will understand that fury and rage and hostility and hate are only brothers and sisters of strong attachment and powerful emotions,” he said.
Home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, France has seen militant attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in recent years, sparking concerns about resurgent anti-Semitism in the country.
French director Francois Ozon’s “By the Grace of God”, a drama about victims of child abuse in the Catholic Church and their fight for justice, won the runner-up Silver Bear Grand Jury prize.
Chinese actors Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei, who played husband and wife in Wang Xiaoshuai’s generational saga “So Long My Son”, won Silver Bears for best actor and actress respectively.
Another Chinese film, Zhang Yimou’s “One Second”, was pulled from the competition earlier this week, with the festival citing “technical reasons”, although it was widely speculated that the film had fallen foul of China’s state censors.
Before announcing the award, jury president and actress Juliette Binoche made reference to the film.
“Since winning the Golden Bear for his first film, his has been an essential voice on the international scene. We hope to see it on screens around the world very soon, and deeply missed this film here at the Berlinale,” she said.
Additional reporting by Hanna Rantala and Swantje Stein; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Marguerita Choy
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