Review: Jarring 'Synonyms' a hard immigrant story to follow

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

Jagged, jarring, hard to follow at times, at times laughably odd, never easy – “Synonyms” is all these things. Then again, so is the immigrant experience it hopes to describe. 

The movie’s approach mirrors the life of its protagonist. That’s artistic, right? 

Uh, sure. But it’s also jagged, jarring and hard to follow. And by the film’s end writer-director Nadav Lapid has gone so metaphorically overboard and obvious that the film veers toward self-conscious indulgence. 

Tom Mercier stars as Yoav, a young Israeli in Paris in "Synonyms."

Then again, this is such a studiously artsy film that one of the characters is writing a book on inertia. Which is of course a joke, but then again maybe not. So self-conscious indulgence is somewhat expected. 

A young, attractive Yoav (Tom Mercier) moves to Paris from Israel, apparently intent on never speaking Hebrew again (the reason for this change is eventually sketched in). After some comical misadventures he ends up naked and destitute, relying on the kindness of a young, wealthy would-be writer (Quentin Dolmaire) and his (of course, it’s Paris) lithe, beguiling lover (Louise Chevillotte). 

Thus begins Yoav’s attempt to fit in. He rents a ragged hole of an apartment, lives on pasta and tomato sauce, takes various menial jobs and walks around with a French dictionary, mumbling the language to himself, intent on fitting in. Big surprise: He doesn’t. 

Director Lapid certainly goes for a street level approach as his shaky camera trots endlessly through  Paris alongside Yoav. When Yoav goes to a nightclub and everyone hits the dance floor the camera doesn’t follow feet or faces, it focuses on belt buckles. Why? It probably has something to do with inertia. 

In the end, Yoav can’t become something he’s not. Which is a plight likely facing immigrants everywhere. And alienated human souls everywhere. 

It’s all very deep. Except, you know, not really. 



Not rated 

Running time: 123  minutes 

Synonyms (Not rated) 

A young man leaves Israel for Paris in this somewhat obvious artsy comic-drama. (123 minutes) Tom Long/Special to the Detroit News  GRADE: C