Pasolini might have loved Tom Mercier. As Yoav—the central character in SYNONYMS, Nadav Lapid’s exhilarating, autobiographical picaresque—the strapping judo master-turned-dancer-turned-actor ignites the screen as an improvisational work-in-progress, rough clay to be shaped and used by all who cross his path. An exile in Paris—he fled Israeli after his mandatory stint in the army—he loses his native language even as he teaches himself a new one, reciting seemingly random lists of French vocabulary. Applying for an embassy security job with a company run by his fellow countrymen, Yoav refuses to speak Hebrew and reminds anyone who will listen that his homeland is “obscene, ignorant, idiotic, sordid, fetid, crude, abominable, odious, lamentable, repugnant, detestable, mean-spirited.” (Descriptive words, he may discover, with applications everywhere.)

Befriended by an effete young French couple (Quentin Dolmaire and Louise Chevillotte), both of whom love him for interrupting their predictable lives with his energy and beauty, Yoav is horrified by his past but unable to outrun it. As his performance of Francophilia and acts of erasure encounter a series of dead ends, this man of deep feeling seems destined to remain a tourist in his own life.


Through November 7.

Nuart Theatre

11272 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Los Angeles.

Opens November 8:

Laemmle Town Center

17200 Ventura Boulevard, Encino.

Nadav Lapid, Synonyms (2019), from top: Tom Mercier; Quentin Dolmaire (left) and Mercier; Louise Chevillotte and Mercier; U.S. poster; director Nadav Lapid with Mercier on set (2), photographs by Guy Ferrandis. Images courtesy and © the filmmaker, the actors, the photographer, and Kino Lorber.

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