February 16, 2019
By Thomas Escritt
BERLIN (Reuters) – Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s film “Synonyms”, about an Israeli man who tries to suppress his origins after moving to Paris, starting with his own language, won the Berlin Film Festival’s coveted Golden Bear award on Saturday.
The film, about Yaav (Tom Mercier) and his struggle to reinvent himself as French, surgically excising everything about himself that is Israeli, was based on Lapid’s own experiences of moving abroad and the ambivalence he felt for his homeland.
Lapid dedicated the film to his mother Era Lapid, who edited his films until her death during the final cutting of this one.
“We edited this film together between hospitals and the editing suite,” he said in his acceptance speech. “My film is dedicated to her.”
Acknowledging that the film, which explores the tensions between roots and identity, could prove controversial in both Israel and France, he pleaded with audiences to receive it as a “celebration of cinema.”
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.
“Perhaps there are people who see this film as a scandal, but for me this film is a celebration of cinema,” he said. “I hope that people will recognize the fury and rage for what they are – close cousins of the strong feelings of attachment and closeness.”
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.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Hugh Lawson)