Unlike its predecessor Yossi and Jagger, something of an action film set in the war zone of southern Lebanon 10 years before this sequel begins, Yossi is an interior drama about a depressed and repressed individual who resists action.
A combat infantry officer in his youth, the older Yossi is now Dr. Gutman, having begun a promising career as a cardiologist in a Tel Aviv hospital, while still mired in mourning for his lover, Lior, who died in his arms after a botched mission in the closing months of Israel’s presence in Lebanon.
But just as a decade before, Yossi still keeps his sexual orientation closeted, something of a surprise given the strides made by gays in Israeli society during the ensuing years. These advances are parallel to and slightly in advance of gains made for same-sex equality in this country. For example, openly gay members of the military were officially accepted years earlier in Israel than in the United States.
We see the contrast between Yossi’s emotionally stunted, walled-off life with the openness of Tom, a self-confidently “out” young gay soldier whom he meets on the way to a much-needed vacation in Eilat. Tom is good-naturedly ribbed as a “homo” by his boisterously straight army buddies who are with him on leave, which in itself shows how times have changed. Oz Zehavi, a pretty-boy actor who is beginning to make appearances on American television, is completely believable as Tom.
Ohad Knoller reprises his role as Yossi, which earned him the Best Male Actor award at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2003. Fans of the Israeli TV soap, Srugim — about the lives of Modern Orthodox young singles in contemporary Jerusalem — will recognize Knoller as Nati, the moody, commitment-phobic, and somewhat homophobic doctor. This last trait is illustrated in an episode where Nati, too tired to go home after dinner with his female friends, awakens on their couch in the morning seeking to put on phylacteries as required for his morning prayers. When it is helpfully suggested that he borrow from a neighbor, who happens to be a chubby female rabbi with an obvious American accent, he recoils against wearing tefillin used by a “lesbian.”
Yossi is the latest film by Eytan Fox, the accomplished director of such respected flicks as Walk On Water and The Bubble, whose sexual orientation generally manifests in his work. Aside from its gay theme, the slow internal unwinding of its plot ensures that Yossi is not for everyone. Still, although it ended abruptly in a scenario I found unlikely, Yossi made me smile at times. If one can appreciate a subtle character study, this will work for you.