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The Best of Berlinale 2019

Tallie Medel and Norma Kuhling in Dan Sallitt’s Fourteen (2019)

The Berlin International Film Festival can be grateful to Juliette Binoche and her jury for making the most of this year’s spare competition lineup. Tasked with presenting eight awards, the jury had just sixteen titles to choose from after Zhang Yimou’s One Second was pulled for “technical reasons.” Before announcing the jury’s decisions, Binoche read a statement, a thinly veiled call to China to release One Second, a work by an “essential voice in international cinema,” adding that “we missed it here at the Berlinale very much.” The jury then proceeded to bestow the Bears, and it’s not all that common to find so many critical favorites on the final list of prizewinners.

Nadav Lapid’s challenging Synonyms has won the festival’s top award, the Golden Bear. In his fierce and fearless onscreen debut, Tom Mercier plays Yoav, an Israeli fresh off his mandatory stint in the military who arrives in Paris not just to start a new life but to create a new self. Relentlessly unpredictable, Yoav drives what IndieWire’s David Ehrlich calls an “astonishing, maddening, brilliant, hilarious, obstinate, and altogether unmissable” film. Lapid, whose 2011 debut feature Policeman won a special jury prize in Locarno and whose The Kindergarten Teacher (2014) was remade last year by Sara Colangelo and Maggie Gyllenhaal, rewardingly frustrates expectations at every turn. Synonyms has “chutzpah to spare,” writes Giovanni Marchini Camia for Sight & Sound, “but it is backed up with the necessary aesthetic and philosophical rigor.”

In an outstanding interview at the Notebook, Lapid tells Daniel Kasman that “for me, one of the biggest challenges is to bring at least half of the chaotic aspect of life to the screen. I think that in a way is one of the biggest problems of a big, big majority of movies is that they have intentions, and intentions turn them sterile. We all have intentions, but the question is how to cling to these intentions without losing the truth of the moment, the vivacity and the strangeness of life.”

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