Title: Yossi (Ha-Sippur shel Yossi)
Director: Eytan Fox
Screenwriter: Itay Segal
Cast: Ohad Knoller, Lior Ashkenazi, Orly Silbersatz, Oz Zehavi, Ola Schur Selektar
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 1/8/13
Opens: January 25, 2013
There are many ways that the cultures of Iran and Israel are dissimilar. In Iran’s population there exists not a single homosexual, at least not since 1979. If you can’t believe the president of that country, whom can you believe? In Israel, for example, gays may not always be out of the closet but that macho country happily has no problems with gays in the army. Not only that, but gay men and hetero men can joke around with one another without anyone’s fearing that there must be something sexual about the horseplay. And if you can’t believe a movie that brings out this concept, whom can you believe?
The movie in question is “Yossi,” directed by Eytan Fox, whose tension-filled “Walk on Water” follows a Mossad agent skilled in assassination who tracks down an old Nazi considered to be still alive. In his films, Fox has questioned whether love can exist in a country filled with tension, whether one can be openly gay in a macho culture, whether an Israeli can be friendly with a Palestinian, and what it’s like to be young in that small nation. This time around, his “Yossi,” a sequel to his 2002 film “Yossi and Jagger” about two army buddies fighting in Lebanon. Fox uses Itay Segal’s screenplay to show several of these concepts, and he does so in a tender, heartfelt, apparently realistic way in a story that includes a terrific soundtrack from Gustav Mahler to old-fashioned folk to youthful pop.
The title figure, played by thirty-six year old actor Ohad Knoller in the guise of a 33-year-old cardiologist, is a sad, lonely, closeted gay man who in one scene is so disturbed when awakened by a woman who comes on to him in his sleep that he thrusts her aside causing her to injure himself. Yet nobody appears aware of the doctor’s sexual orientation, but some, including his womanizing doctor friend Moti (Lior Ashkenazi), are mystified that the workaholic doc has never taken a vacation. Perhaps they could have figured the truth: that when he does go home (he sleeps regularly in the hospital) it’s to a lonely room where he eats take-out noodles and watches gay porn.
After giving a patient (Orly Silbersatz) information she did not want to hear about her son who died in the war in Lebanon, he takes off for a vacation, picking up a group of fun-loving young soldiers including Tom (Oz Zehavi), an openly gay man, who senses a like spirit in Yossi. What happens between them could conceivably change the cardiologist’s social life.
Though the romance between Tom and the older man does not elicit much chemistry, both the side roles and that of Ohad Knoller in the principal one are spot-on. Knoller, in most of the scenes and portraying a chubby, shlubby guy with a scruffy beard, is the perfect choice for portraying sadness and loneliness, his drab outlook on life contradicted by the bright lights of a luxury hotel in Eilat, the country’s southernmost city. “Yossi” follows its sad sack at a leisurely pace and, I’m told, the story may have been inspired by the Biblical story in the Book of Samuel of David and Jonathan, whose friendship may have been platonic, maybe not.
Unrated R. 84 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+