In Nadav Lapid’s latest film, the award-winning Synonyms, a young man moves from Tel Aviv to Paris to make a clean break from his Israeli identity. This drastic attempt at self-reinvention is something that Lapid himself endeavored in his early twenties, when he relocated to France and first fell under the spell of auteurs like Jean-Luc Godard, who would go on to influence his irreverent, politically charged filmmaking. During a recent visit to the Criterion offices, the director talked with us about one of his favorite scenes in Godard’s Masculin féminin, a New Wave classic that reflects Lapid’s own interest in physicality on-screen and his belief that “the most political statements can be deeply personal, and the most intimate moments can be political.” This article is edited together from that conversation.
The first time I had a revelation about Godard’s work happened before I had any real connection to cinema, or any cinephile knowledge at all. It was just a few weeks after the end of my military service—I was a bit like Jean-Pierre Léaud’s character in Masculin féminin, a young ex-soldier named Paul—and I happened to see Breathless. Until then, I didn’t know that films like this existed, and I couldn’t put my thoughts into words because I didn’t have any historical context for cinema. I hadn’t heard of the nouvelle vague, but what I was watching made me feel that there was a deeper way of talking about life and existence. It was only a few weeks later that I decided to move from Israel to Paris. I was sure that Paris was filled with guys like Jean-Paul Belmondo and Godard.
Once I was there, in the early 2000s, I started reading Cahiers du cinéma and visiting all the independent theaters in Saint-Germain and Saint-Michel, where they would often show Godard’s films. This is how I first saw Masculin féminin. I had a good friend—perhaps the best friend I’ve ever had—named Émile, who was very educated and came from an aristocratic family. He taught me everything, and it was from him that I first learned words like sequence and framing. He exposed me to more of Godard’s cinema, and when we’d go to the movies and the film was good, I couldn’t wait for it to end so that I could hear his analysis of it. In my mind, that was as beautiful as the movie itself.
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