Many films have explored the physical, mental, and emotional toll of starting a new life – whether by choice or force – in a foreign country. Joining this particular brand of coming-of-age story is Synonymes, a well-made and well-acted French drama that ultimately does not follow through on its most interesting facets and lacks nuance in its character exploration. Unfortunately, this portrait of a deeply troubled young man in search of a fresh start does not give its protagonist enough psychological depth to win viewers to his side.
Yoav (Tom Mercier) is fleeing Israel due to a deep disgust with his home country. Some trauma – perhaps PTSD from mandatory time in the army – is implied, but it is never explored. Consequently, his actions – notably the cruel rants in the film’s second half – come across as unduly mean-spirited and off-putting. This self-torture also comes through in graphic sexual displays but again these feel indicative of a larger issue that is never explored. Additionally, every Israeli expat in this story seeks out confrontation aggressively; while possibly indicative of the company Yoav keeps based on his own views and experiences, the one-sided portrayal leaves a bad taste in today’s climate.
Paris looks quietly gorgeous through Nadav Lapid’s well-framed direction. As Yoav denies himself the city’s famous beauty, the sublime (Notre Dame) and gritty (trash-filled streets) are presented without commentary: the city rises above any agenda.
The most compelling part of the drama is the love triangle between Yoav, his new friend Emile, and Emile’s girlfriend Caroline. However, the explosive chemistry which characterises their first encounters fizzles out with no satisfactory confrontation or closure.
Synonymes will leave a relatable ache in the hearts of any who have left their homes in search of new lives and new identities, but its overwhelming dourness does the tale a disservice.
CAST: Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevillotte
DIRECTOR: Nadav Lapid
WRITERS: Nadav Lapid, Haïm Lapid
SYNOPSIS: Upon moving to France, a young Israeli man strives to erase his previous national identity.