When asked what he’d do in France, the Israeli Yoav (Tom Mercier) replies, “I’ll be French.” Like a Terminator dropped from the sky, he runs naked reconnaissance through the recently leased Parisian flat he now calls home. He left Israel with a one-way ticket and a singular goal: erase all signs of his heritage. (“Israel will die before I do,” is his mantra.) That includes the purchase of a French dictionary (it provides the narration here) and the absolute abandonment of his native tongue. Mercier’s Yoav is a fascinatingly original characterization, and Nadav Lapid challenges whatever preconceived notions of assimilation audiences bring with them. Normally, I’d flip for a film this committed to staying one step ahead of its audience. But Synonymes is a little too smart for its own good, never stopping to give viewers time to catch up. Still, as stiff-neck storytelling goes, this is pretty damn impressive. (2019) — Scott Marks
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