Director Etyan Fox’ heartfelt, emotionally weighty story of gay Israeli soldiers in love, Yossi & Jagger (2002), was critically lauded and proved something of a controversial cult hit at the time.
Ten years later Fox returns to the story that made his name with Ohad Knoller back in the tile role of Yossi (2012). Now working as an overworked and under-slept cardiologist, the former army commander has retreated into a lonely life of denial, licking the palpably deep wound left by the loss of his lover in battle. Consoling himself by burying himself in his work, sadly releasing during fervent porn sessions, the film grabs you in a delicate portrayal of grief, sexual identity and fear.
Without bogging the viewer down in the events of Yossi and Jagger, Etyan and scriptwriter Itay Segal prefer instead to focus on the painful journey of emerging from overwhelming loss. It’s a delicately judged film with a remarkable lightness, enjoying nuanced performances throughout.
Knoller is riveting as Yossi, who has let himself go physically and personally, adrift in a lonely bubble, too scared to uncover his own body. When by chance he meets young soldier Tom (Oz Zehavi, in a disarmingly confident turn) it’s almost as if history is repeating itself, even as expectations are flipped on their head.
Much like Jagger, the young man has an assured swagger that bit-by-bit teases the hibernating spirit from Yossi even as he recalcitrantly resists. There’s a nice literary nod when Tom remarks on the “sad” book that Yossi is reading by the poolside in a luxury resort where the young soldiers are relaxing. When Yossi asks if he’s read it, Tom replies “Death in Venice, how happy can it be?”
Rather than hammer the emotions, much is left to subtle looks and half glimpsed smiles as the men are slowly drawn to each other. It’s an engaging if short ride, at little over 80 minutes, but the economy does it justice and proves a film doesn’t have to hit the two-hour mark to make a big impact.
Majestically shot, there’s an aching, yearning heart to this movie that offers hope in the heart of pain.
Catch Yossi at the Jewish International Film Festival, jiff.com.au