Culture minister says congratulations, maybe, to Berlin Film Festival winner

Miri Regev says she has no idea what’s in the Israeli-French film ‘Synonyms, and hopes the movie will not disappoint her by being anti-Israel

Culture Minister Miri Regev at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 8, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/Yedioth Ahronoth/Pool)
Culture Minister Miri Regev at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 8, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/Yedioth Ahronoth/Pool)

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev on Sunday sent conditional congratulations to Nadav Lapid, the director of Israeli-French film “Synonyms,” which won top prize at the Berlin film festival on Saturday.

Regev has been an outspoken critic of Israeli artists who have displayed what she considers to be disloyalty to the state and said that neither she or anybody in her ministry had seen the movie, which won a first-ever Golden Bear for Israel.

“Congratulations to Nadav Lapid for winning the prize. It is more proof of the successes for Israeli cinema. However, nobody in my ministry has seen the film and we do not have any knowledge whether it raises issues that could harm the state of Israel, its symbols and its values,” Channel 13 news quoted Regev as saying.

Regev has had a fraught relationship with the cultural community since her appointment and has been accused of attempting to bring Israeli artists in line with her hawkish political ideology.

The absurdist, broadly autobiographical movie tells the story of an Israeli who moves to Paris to flee the fraught political situation at home.

Lapid said, as he accepted the award, that some in Israel might be “scandalized” by the movie “but for me, the film is also a big celebration — a celebration, I hope, also of cinema.”

Director Nadav Lapid, left, receives the golden bear for best film for ‘Synonyms’ from jury president Juliette Binoche onstage at the award ceremony of the 2019 Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

A jury headed by French actress Juliette Binoche chose the movie from a field of 16 competing at the first of the year’s major European film festivals. Set in Paris, it stars Tom Mercier in the role of Yoav, who refuses to speak Hebrew and is accompanied by an ever-present French dictionary as he tries to put down roots and create a new identity for himself.

“I hope that people will understand that fury and rage and hostility and hate … are only the twin brothers and sisters of strong attachment and powerful emotions,” he said.“I hope that people will not look only at this film as a kind of harsh or radical political statement because it’s not,” he told reporters, describing it as “a human and existential and artistic statement,” Lapid said.

After returning home, Lapid told reporters that he had “never considered himself to be an ambassador for Israel,” although he was thrilled by all the greetings from well-wishers on the flight back to Tel Aviv.

He said that although he had much criticism of Regev, he would be “very pleased” if she “will watch the movie from start to finish and express her opinion” because no less important for him is to show his movies who have differing opinions from his.

The last Israeli to win a prize at the festival was filmmaker Joseph Cedar, who in 2007 won the Silver Bear award for Best Director.

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