Published Mar 21, 2013In 2002, Israeli director Eytan Fox stirred the pot with military romance film Yossi and Jagger, an emotional story of a surreptitious love affair between two gay soldiers. As one might imagine, the picture generated outrage in some quarters of Israeli society, yet it called out the fact that regardless of religious upbringing, gays do exist in Israel.
Ten years later, Fox returns with Yossi, one of half of the original pair, only now a decade older, depressed and hiding even deeper in the closet. It's no coincidence that Yossi (Ohad Knoller) is now a cardiologist tending to patients suffering from ailments of the heart, while brokenheartedly continuing to mourn the death of Jagger.
Yossi lives a desolate life of work, sleep, Internet porn, microwave meals and failed hook-ups with superficial, emotionally hollow men. His co-workers — a female nurse with a crush and a drug-snorting, party addicted fellow doctor — attempt to get him out of his shell, making sexual advances and initiating a bathroom threesome at a bar, respectively. But Yossi's self-imposed alienation, body issues (he's gained about 30 pounds and grown additional body hair since his days in the military) and closeted disposition guarantee negative outcomes.
Seemingly paralyzed by his misery, a chance encounter with his former lover's mother at the hospital leads to Yossi revealing their secret relationship to Jagger's parents. The emotional consequence of this meeting knocks some life into Yossi, who then decides to seek respite at a resort for a much-needed vacation.
En route, he picks up four hitchhiking soldiers, one of whom (Oz Zehavi) openly flirts with him. Incredibly, the other soldiers don't seem to care; Israeli society has evolved and is slowly becoming more accepting of LGBT issues, even as the protagonist has remained stuck in the past.
Ohad Knoller plays the depressive Yossi wonderfully, complete with dejected eyes and slumped shoulders underscoring the fact that this man has been dealt a heavy blow. Knoller capably carries the film with his nuanced performance, maintaining our sympathy while moving at a glacial pace towards self-realization, revealing himself both physically and emotionally in a climactic culmination of acceptance.
Fox has scored a hit with his emotional storytelling, detailing the arc of one man's bout with grief, demoralizing self-esteem and resultant hope. While many Israeli films dwell on politics, Yossi is a movie of gestures and tenderness, serving to ensure viewers aren't alienated by preachy didactics. Yossi is human and universal in its significance and appeal. (Strand)