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Nadav Lapid's Synonymes and Alvaro Brechner's A Twelve Year Night

By Rosslyn Hyams

Cinefile this month talks to Nadav Lapid the director of the Franco-Israeli 2019  Berlinale Golden Bear-winner, Synonymes, and to Spanish star actor, Antonio de la Torre about his role as former rebel and former president, José Muhica in Alvaro Brechner's A Twelve-Year Night.


Alvaro Brechner’s film is so beautifully shot in parts that it disconnects from the extremely tough story of three Uruguayan leftist rebels in 1973 who are thrown into prison and kept in solitary confinement for some 12 years. The junta chief says he wants to make them lose their minds.

Based on the true story of the rebels who survived years of inhumane treatment to become politicians, one a minister and one, José Muhica, president, from 2010 to 2015.

Brechner’s film which has enjoyed plenty of success internationally, released in France in March.

Uruguyan director Alvaro Brechner festivaldebiarritz.com

Brechner throws in a love-sick sergeant with a heart and shows not all Uruguayan soldiers were as mean as the army chief.

However, neither this scene nor the amazing way he captures light and shades, detract from the effect of scenes of rough-handling and torture. The painful result is partly because, the three main actors on the rebel side, Antonio de la Torre as Muhica, Alfonso Tort as Eleutherio Fernandez Huidobroa and Chino Darin as Mauricio Rosencof, handle themselves so well.

They experienced some hardship in preparing their roles. De la Torre said “we all lost about 15 kilos for this film and whenever we had a break, all we would talk about was food.”

A feeling of numbness starts to creep in the film during its series of different forms of humiliation and of jail-transfers. It's still impossible to imagine how these could have men felt day after day, night after twelve years of nights of being ill-treated, living in squalor, hungry and thirsty.

Listen to the interview with guest of the month, Antonio de la Torre in the latest Cinefile.

Spoiler alert:

Anyone who knows the recent history of Uruguay knows that the nightmarish and sad scenes will come to an end and there will be a happy ending.


Writer-director Nadav Lapid is a philosophical sort. He’s concerned with questions of identity in general and Israeli identity more specifically and even more specifically masculine identity.

For example, he said in Berlin just before receiving, along with his producer Sayeed Ben Sayeed, the Berlinale’s Golden Bear in February 2019 for Synonymes. “It’s very tough to be a woman in Israel.” He agrees that it’s tough to be a woman in many places actually.

Director Nadav Lapid (c) with the Berlinale Golden Bear flanked by jury president, French actress, Juliette Binoche (l) and Synonymes' leading actor, Tom Mercier (r), 17 February 2019 REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Philosophy and satire

In his award-winning French-co-produced film which released in France this spring, Yoav (Tom Mercier) a young Israeli who has quit Israel some time after his military service, is fleeing the Israel he doesn’t identify with, and seeks to become French.

Yoav discovers that underlying an appearance of freedom in a country largely at peace, is a similar identity is also defined by everyone feeling the same, being taught to feel the same about their country.

In strange circumstances, he meets Emile (Quentin Dolmaire), an aspiring writer and Caroline (Louise Chevillotte), a musician. They are two seemingly contained, slightly odd, rather cold and artistic individuals who warmly befriend Yoav.

Punchy stuff

The runaway is also investigated by Israeli agents to whom he speaks in perfect literary French about the Battle of Troy, contrasting with one Israeli's bullish , sexist provocation.

Combined with biting caricatures, and high-energy dance scenes Lapid allows his poetic side to irrigate Synonymes which at times flows fast, and then slows down to a pseudo New Wave pace.

Listen to more of the interview with Lapid in Berlin in the latest Cinefile.

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