Israeli Director's Film Wins Top Prize at Berlin Festival

Nadav Lapid's 'Synonyms,' about a young Israeli who moves to Paris, have been praised by critics as 'brilliant' and 'fearless'

From Nadav Lapid's film "Synonyms."
Guy Ferrandis / SBS Films

Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid's film "Synonyms" won the Golden Bear, the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, on Saturday. 

A day earlier, "Synonyms" was selected as the winner of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Award at the festival. 

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The FIPRESCI jury described the film as a highly original work with a sharp wit and subtle political message.

Synonyms, filmed last year in Paris, tells the story of Yoav (Tom Mercier), an Israeli who moves to Paris in the hopes of leaving his past in Israel behind.

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IndieWire critics David Ehrlich dubbed it "astonishing, maddening, brilliant, hilarious, obstinate, and altogether unmissable," writing that "few directors have understood the raw physicality of a movie camera better than Lapid."

A clip from 'Synonyms.'

Reviewing the film for Variety, Jay Weissberg noted that Israel's Culture Ministry is likely to be scandalized that "a movie they helped fund is so clearly taking a Kalashnikov to the nation’s military culture and its carefully nurtured persecution complex."

Director and screenwriter Nadav Lapid and actor Tom Mercier pose at the 69th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 13, 2019.
REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Weissberg added that the film is likely to polarize critics and audiences, "with some reading it as indulgent, disjointed excess and others admiring the sheer fearlessness of it all."

Newcomer Mercier has garnered critical praise for his performance, with Weissberg writing that "even were he not seen naked, as he frequently is, Mercier has a body language and presence that treats clothes as a superfluity."

The FIPRESCI jury was comprised of Rita di Santo of the United Kingdom, Orlando Margarido of Brazil, and José Romero of Peru.

"Synonyms" is based on Lapid's own experiences as an Israeli moving to Paris. It was produced by Michel Merkt and Said Ben Said, a prominent French producer who has backed films by Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg and Paul Verhoeven.

The FIPRESCI jury gives prizes to films from three festival programs, with Synonyms winning the prize for films screened as part of the festival's main competition. The other FIPRESCI prize winners this year were Federico Bondi's Dafne, from the Panorama program, and Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska's Die Kinder der Toten, from the Forum program.