Yossi (Strand Releasing, NR)

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film yossi_smYou need some patience to appreciate Yossi—things happen slowly and with subtlety.

 

film yossi

It's not just Americans who head off on road trips to find themselves. Even though he may not realize it, that's exactly the agenda when Yossi (Ohad Knoller), a hard-working cardiologist, takes some time off from his job in Tel Aviv and sets out on a drive to the Sinai. There are immediate causes for this journey—the most notable of which is the overworked Yossi making a serious mistake during a routine medical procedure—but the real source of Yossi's troubles is that he is still mourning the death of his lover, Lior, known as Jagger because of his rock-star good looks.

Yossi is a sequel to Yossi and Jagger, Eytan Fox's 2003 drama about two gay officers in the Israeli army, and while you don't have to have seen the earlier film to make sense of this one, it certainly helps in terms of providing Yossi with some backstory. Since Jagger's death, Yossi has become a type we're all familiar with: successful in his career, but so withdrawn in his personal life that he seems to be living at best a half-life.

Because of his solitary existence, Yossi has failed to notice that over 10 years Israel has become an extraordinarily gay-friendly country. That's very nice for the younger generation, but Yossi remains closeted, and even something of a prude. While we can tell that he's a really sweet-hearted guy, Yossi just doesn't have the blazing good looks or self-confidence to compete with younger and more self-possessed men, a truth that is driven home in a humiliating experience following an online encounter.

The first third of Yossi seems so determined to dump humiliation upon its title character that you may start wondering if his name should instead be Job. A night out with a fellow physician (Lior Ashkenazi) does not go well, and neither does a meeting with Jagger's parents that Yossi engineers (you do have to wonder what he was thinking).

Things start to look up when he hits the road and gives a ride to four Israeli soldiers who have missed their bus. They are everything that he is not: confident, happy, and more than willing to meet the world on its own terms. More significantly, one of the four, Tom (Oz Zehavi), is gay, and he's as at home in his own skin as Yossi is uncomfortable. It's clear where this story is heading, but a pleasure to watch it play out, and there's a minimum of exploitation and a maximum of compassion in Fox's portrayal of the changes that gradually come over Yossi.

You need some patience to appreciate Yossi. Things happen slowly and with subtlety, and there are certainly times when you want to yell at Knoller that he's only getting one life and he'd better start taking advantage of it. Still, his portrayal of a person locked in his own grief is both realistic and sympathetic, and Fox brings events to a conclusion that is more than worth the wait. The film's symbols are sometimes a little too on the nose (Yossi reads Death in Venice and listens to Mahler's 5th Symphony—why not have him wear a button saying "tragic gay" and be done with it?), but the essential honesty of Knoller's performance shines through any number of directorial contrivances. | Sarah Boslaugh

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