Ten years after his gay wartime love story “Yossi & Jagger,” writer-director Eytan Fox returns to the tale of the film’s survivor, Yossi, now a workaholic cardiologist in Tel Aviv who has shut himself off after Jagger’s death. This kinder, gentler pic, lifted out of the combat zone and placed in a more gay-tolerant context, generates tension through the subtle juxtaposition of mise-en-scene and Ohad Knoller’s nuanced performance as a man caught between the safety of withdrawal and the temptation of connection. Warm, generous pic’s appeal extends beyond targeted gay and Jewish auds.
Events conspire to send Yossi on the road: a botched procedure that nearly costs a patient his life, spurring a hospital honcho to insist that he take a vacation, as does a concerned if dingbat fellow doctor, Moti (Lior Ashkenazi); a humiliating online sex experience; and personal rejection by Jagger’s distraught parents, to whom he has just revealed their dead son’s hitherto unsuspected homosexuality and his own two-year relationship with him.
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Yossi heads for Sinai, despite or perhaps because of the potential danger lurking there. En route, he offers a lift to soldiers on leave who have missed their bus, and they pile into the car to the strains of Mahler’s Fifth emanating from Yossi’s CD player.
Among the troops is Tom (Oz Zehavi), affectionately designated “homo” by the others; his tastes and familiarity with Yossi’s music collection are roundly mocked by the others in a manner that signals total acceptance. Impressed by Yossi’s knowledge of their little-known deployment area (though he downplays his former rank and combat experience), they include him in their friendly insults and clowning around. Dropping them off at a resort in Eilat, he initially resists their invitation to join them, but soon returns to take a room at the same hotel.
The title character’s slow emergence from awkwardness and rejection begins in the car with Yossi sitting at the wheel, shot from the front, as he interacts with the soldiers without having to face them, his polite reserve transforming into near-bonhomie. In the film’s opening scenes, by contrast, helmer Fox often opts to shoot Yossi from behind, following him through hospital corridors where, strangely, his head seems as readable from the back as his sad-sack face is from the front.
The resort sometimes caters to Yossi’s sensibilities, as he quietly enjoys an acoustic set by singer-songwriter Keren Ann, who also scored the movie. But when crass showbiz reigns, the protag reverts to his usual solitary anomie, stoically sitting at a small table, staring at his umbrella’d drink during a particularly inane stage show. Tom, on one such occasion, recognizes Yossi from the back and lures him into more congenial waters, with Tom’s gentle, teasing understanding drawing smiles of surpassing sweetness from Yossi. Lenser Guy Raz very gradually allows the sky and sea to overtake the frame as a spirit of infinite, if impractical, promise finally descends on Yossi’s world.