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. The film, a faintly comedic, semi-autobiographical study of identity and the ambivalence of national belonging, 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.
Yoav is shown muttering French synonyms in an attempt to displace his native Hebrew with French as he bonds with a young, wealthy Parisian couple, played by Quentin Dolmaire and Louise Chevillotte.
Like his protagonist, Lapid left Israel for Paris at a young age, and he compared his journey to Yoav's. "In his head he leaves the worst country ever to arrive in the best country ever," he told a news conference. "And at a certain moment he is facing a more complex reality. But I am always a little bit like Yoav ... I'm trying to open this closed door. I'm always charmed by something that exists in France."
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.”
“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.
French director Francois Ozon's "By the Grace of God", a drama about victims of child abuse in the Catholic Church and their fight for justice, won the runner-up Silver Bear Grand Jury prize.
Chinese actors Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei, who played husband and wife in Wang Xiaoshuai's generational saga "So Long My Son", won Silver Bears for best actor and actress respectively.
Another Chinese film, Zhang Yimou's "One Second", was pulled from the competition earlier this week, with the festival citing "technical reasons", although it was widely speculated that the film had fallen foul of China's state censors.
"We hope to see it on screens around the world very soon, and deeply missed this film here at the Berlinale," said French actress Juliette Binoche, the prize jury's president, at the awards ceremony.