Review: Yossi

Review: Yossi

Yossi is a love story about escape from loss and loneliness.

The tension in this film is carried, almost exclusively, by Dr Yossi Gutmann (Ohad Knoller), a hirsute, thick-bodied man on the verge of fatness. He is 34, single, vulnerable to disastrous encounters with online hook-ups, watching gay porn, and rebuffing the attempts of his colleagues at the hospital to liven him up and straighten him out. Slumped in his featureless flat, he is given to listless channel hopping, cooking and eating pasta that is thrown together with less finesse than a serving of Cup-a-Soup.

As the story unfolds it emerges that ten years earlier, when he was a company commander in the Israel Defence Force, Yossi’s second-in-command and lover, Lior – a young guy of 23 – was killed in battle. Their relationship, intense and passionate, had lasted for two years of clandestine assignations. With Lior’s death, however, all trace of their romance was lost, leaving Yossi to suffer a grief as secret as their love affair had been.

Yossi’s depressed and despondent decade is brought gently to an end during a brief holiday at a resort hotel. While driving from Tel Aviv to Eilat through the Negev he is befriended by a group of young conscripts on leave from ‘the front’, and pursued by Tom (Oz Zehavi), a persistent twenty-something soldier, who patiently flirts his way through all of Yossi’s morose defenses.

Yossi’s quiet difficulty with the umbrella in his drink, the appalling cabaret act by a troupe dancing their way through “Will you still love me tomorrow” without regard to the sensibility of the lyric, make a nice counterpoint to Tom’s efforts to bed the older man.  We hold our breath as Yossi rebuffs all the advances of the good-looking young fella, except the last one, when our desire for a Jane Austen ending is finally consummated, as Yossi’s smile breaks through.

There is little that is subtle in this picture. The generation gap between Yossi and the boys is flagged up by the way Tom’s mates boisterously accept that he’s “Homo”. The lads also think that the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is by Mozart . . . of course, they’ve never heard of Thomas Mann’s novella, Death in Venice, or of the 1971 movie by Luchino Visconti, which made great use of Mahler’s sweeping strings. These asides are addressed to older gay men who are likely to know all this from the days when homosexuality was obscene, ludicrous, or simply tragic.

Although this film can stand alone it is in fact a sequel to Fox’s 2002 movie, Yossi & Jagger, in which the Yossi’s earlier love affair and the tragic death of Lior is explored.

Yet the connection between Yossi, and Yossi & Jagger, is as awkwardly inserted in this sequel, as the movie’s other transitions are ungainly. Despite this, and despite Tom’s cute monkey business, Eytan Fox and his actors pull it off. Yossi is a popular meditation on depression, grief, and the deep shame that many of us feel when confronted with the imperfections of our own bodies. All this gloom is magically and marvelously dispelled, as Tom and love conquers all in a movie finely balanced between thoughtfulness and triviality.

Directed by Eytan Fox
Written by Itay Segal
Language: Hebrew, English subtitles
Availability: Netflix
Principal actors: Ohad Knoller, Oz Zehavi, Lior Ashkenazi, Orly Zilbershats


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