An Ideological Crisis

Yoav rebels against conformity in “Synonyms.”

Yoav (Tom Mercier) arrives in Paris seemingly out of thin air, like some nomadic ghost searching for a place to haunt. In the phantasmal opening sequence of “Synonyms,” he breaks into an abandoned apartment, strips naked and takes a cold shower. Upon exiting the bathroom, his clothes have mysteriously vanished.

 

The young Israeli nearly freezes that night, but is luckily resuscitated by curious French socialites Emile (Quentin Dolmaire) and Caroline (Louise Chevilotte). But Yaov’s brush with death intensifies what is later revealed to be a complete disavowal of the Jewish culture and his national identity.

 

Director Nadav Lapid slowly and enigmatically peels back the layers to this ongoing ideological crisis. This results in a scattershot pace that speeds up and slows down depending on the main character’s whims, which makes “Synonyms” surely one of the strangest and most intoxicating films of recent memory.

 

Yaov’s dissatisfaction with Israel expands beyond the country’s social dilemmas, human rights abuses, and military policies. He decides to disavow Hebrew, his native tongue, for French in what becomes a linguistic act of defiance.

 

“Synonyms” (opening Friday, November 22, at the Ken Cinema) frames Yaov’s shifting identity around multiple genre constructs, including riveting musical interludes, blasts of slapstick comedy, and war film iconography. This is a film that is bursting from the seams with possibility, even if the main character doesn’t always feel the same way.

 

Lapid is the rare art film director that manages to convey a certain mood without relying on singular cinematic aesthetics. Instead, he’s more focused on the actors themselves, and how physicality and prose help shield the emotional traumas underneath.

 

By the end of “Synonyms,” Yaov’s future seems no less certain than it did in the opening moments, but his pain has definitively been traced back to specific and undeniable origins at both a nationalist and familial level. In short, he’s a tragic personification of nationalism gone wrong, stateless with nowhere to scream.

 

Opening

 

“21 Bridges:” Chadwick Boseman plays an embattled detective who confronts corruption during an intense manhunt for two cop killers that threatens to shut down New York City. Opens Friday, November 22, in wide release.

 

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood:” In this biopic about TV icon Fred Rogers (played by Tom Hanks), director Marielle Heller looks at how a specific friendship comes to define an entire life perspective. Opens Friday, November 22, in wide release.

 

“Frozen II:” Royal sisters Anna (Kristin Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) travel to an ancient land searching for answers to their family legacy in this sequel to the mega-hit animation from 2013. Opens Friday, November 22, in wide release.

 

“Gift:” An intimate exploration of real-life gift economies, this documentary reflects on the creative process, the reasons we labor in service of our gifts, and a celebration of the imagination. Opens Friday, November 22, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.

 

“Honey Boy:” Shia LaBeouf wrote and stars in this indie drama about a young actor who struggles to overcome his tormented childhood and alcoholic father. Opens Friday, November 22, at Angelika Carmel Mountain Cinemas and Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas.

 

“Synonyms:” A disaffected young Israeli man arrives in Paris ready to forget his Jewish heritage and embrace French culture in this strange comedy by Nadav Lapid. Opens Friday, November 22, at the Landmark Ken Cinema.

 

One-Time Only

 

“Blinded by the Light:” A Pakistani British teen embraces the music of legend Bruce Springsteen to reconcile the experiences of being a minority in Thatcher’s England during the 1980s. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, November 22, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.

 

“In Between:” Three Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv try to balance traditions with modern culture. Screens at 1 p.m. Tuesday, November 26, at the San Diego Oasis Lifelong Learning Center in La Mesa.

 

“Planes, Trains, & Automobiles:” Steve Martin and John Candy play complete strangers who are forced to travel cross-country together after an extreme weather event shuts down multiple modes of transportation. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 27, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.