Home Video Hovel: Yossi, by Aaron Pinkston
A follow-up to 2002’s Yossi & Jagger, Eytan Fox’s Yossi continues the story of the title character, now a 34-year-old cardiologist living in Tel Aviv. For those who haven’t seen Yossi & Jagger, it is definitely a film worth checking out — a simple, yet beautiful romance between two Israeli active-duty soldiers. I’m not sure if the film made many waves when it came out, but it’s pretty remarkable to think of a film that so maturely depicts a homosexual relationship in such a masculine environment (and three years before Brokeback Mountain, at that). We don’t often see sequels to small, foreign romances, and Yossi is a pretty good one.
It draws well from themes and leftover questions of the first film, while expanding on the title character, putting him in new situations and environments. Yossi & Jagger is a fairly insular film, taking place mostly between two characters in the Israeli army during the war in Lebanon — Yossi takes the tragic events of the first film and fast-forwards ten years, letting the viewer check in on Yossi, see him interact in a more expansive world. Over the decade, Yossi has changed quite a bit; he’s a little more portly, a little more scruffy, and as damaged as you would expect. We find out early on that he is still living with his homosexuality in secret, which is not a surprise given the conservative society, but he also seems to be holding on to the death of his former love, not willing to fully move on. It doesn’t help that he seems to be pretty out of his element in every social situation, forced to conform to both heterosexual and homosexual ideals.
It’s only after two specific events that Yossi is ready to move on from the memory of his former lover. First is a reconnection with Jagger’s mother, who he sees during an appointment she makes at his hospital. Though she doesn’t remember him (their characters meet during the finale of the first film), he recognizes her immediately, and while he initially keeps their connection a secret, being close to her seems to help him. You can surmise that this is the first time he’s really faced his past. The second event is a run-in with a group of Israeli soldiers who need a lift after missing their bus — a plotline that takes over the second half of the film. After we’ve seen Yossi in awkward romantic and normal social situations in the film’s first half, he seems to immediately become a different person when with the soldiers. He seems stronger, more self-confident and self-assured, more in the element of his past life.
Now having faced the loss of his lover and having regained a part of himself, he strikes up a romantic kinship with one of the young soldiers. The relationship we see isn’t explicit, but it is surprisingly intimate. We mostly see them talking about their lives, Yossi speaking about his time in the military and Tom’s situation as a man openly gay amongst his fellow soldiers. Though it doesn’t quite have the intensity or thematic breadth, this section of the film draws favorable comparisons to Andrew Haigh’s Weekend. Even in a pretty limited time, the way Fox builds their relationship has quite an impact. Simple and sweet, perfectly compatible, it’s hard not to root for Yossi and Tom by the end of the film.
As with its predecessor, Ohad Knoller delivers a strong performance in the lead role. He is natural and believable in the role, seemingly comfortable in Yossi’s skin even when Yossi doesn’t seem to be comfortable. He is perfectly schlubby with no self-esteem, while also being a suitable romantic lead, something that seems incredibly difficult to pull off. There always seems to be a dose of suspension of disbelief in Hollywood romantic comedies involving two characters who seem to be on different social ladders — the best of those films make you believe that these people must be together, against all odds. Without Knoller’s performance and the history he brings to the character, the romantic relationship the film becomes just wouldn’t work.
Yossi is one of the rare examples of a sequel that properly builds off what came before it while exceeding in quality. Though I’m not familiar with Eytan Fox’s other work, the filmmaker has obviously grown as much as the main character over the past decade. It is absolutely a film worth checking out, even if you aren’t familiar with Yossi & Jagger — though some of the connection to the characters will be lost, I’m certain that it would work on its own (another good mark for a sequel). Luckily for you, Yossi & Jagger is pretty accessible, on Netflix streaming and floating around on YouTube for non-subscribers. It’s also only 65 minutes long. For those unwilling to watch a sequel without seeing the original, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you.