At the end of 2002’s Yossi & Jagger, director Eytan Fox left us with a simple yet highly suggestive close-up of a man haunted by both grief and regret. Fox’s newest film, Yossi, picks up this man 10 years later and finds him still wrestling with inner demons. Even now, as a professional doctor, Yossi (Ohad Knoller) still grieves for Lior “Jagger” Amichai, the man with whom he carried on a secret love affair as a soldier in an Israeli army troop before he died in Yossi’s arms during combat on the Lebanese border. Worse, Yossi has yet to publicly acknowledge the affair; he remains closeted, resisting both the advances of a female colleague at the hospital and the urgings of a recently divorced male colleague, secretly trolling gay online-dating websites to get his fix.
One of Yossi’s virtues is Fox’s refusal to boil his main character down to an easy psychological framework. Fox and screenwriter Itay Segal mostly imply the reasons behind Yossi’s state of mind, trusting us to intuitively grasp the reasons behind his fragility. It helps that Knoller is a skilled enough actor who can wring maximum expressiveness out of minimal gestures; in his unkempt face and bleary eyes, Knoller allows one to see the strain of Yossi constantly bottling up his emotions.
About a quarter of the way through the film, Yossi spots an unexpected visitor at his hospital: Varda Amichai (Orly Silbersatz Banai), Lior’s mother. He arranges to see her as a patient, and then ends up driving her back home—but throughout these moments, Yossi can’t summon up the courage to admit his relationship with her son (they were both planning to come out to their respective parents before Lior died). It’s only when he shows up one morning, in regular clothes, in front of her and her husband’s house that he finally tells them the truth about their son.
Up to that point, Yossi is a fairly standard, if sensitively handled, drama about a man who’s unable to let go of the past. But as Yossi sits on Jagger’s bed and stares into space after having been invited to visit his old room by Varda’s husband, the screen dissolves into a point-of-view dolly shot of an open road, and suddenly we see Yossi driving to an as-yet-unknown location. It’s then that a relatively conventional drama blossoms into something more bracingly unstructured, the shift subtly reflecting Yossi’s own aimless quest to snap himself back to emotional life.
At a rest stop, Yossi encounters a group of four young soldiers and offers them a ride to the hotel at which they’re staying; during the car ride, he plays them a selection from the “Adagietto” movement of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. When, after dropping them off at the hotel, Yossi impulsively decides to stay at that same hotel, we later see him sitting by a pool reading a book—identified by one of the soldiers as Death in Venice. Luchino Visconti famously used the Adagietto in his 1971 screen adaptation of Thomas Mann’s controversial novella, and considering that Yossi himself could be said to be channeling Gustav Aschenbach in the way he hangs around these younger men in a faintly creepy manner, these references are surely not incidental. Fox, however, is too warmly compassionate a filmmaker to approach Mann’s disturbing melancholy.
As he hangs around with these four party animals, Yossi develops a particular interest in one of the four: Tom (Oz Zehavi), an openly gay soldier who has much of the same energy and passion that Yossi found so appealing about Jagger. Their tentative budding romance more indirectly recalls last year’s acclaimed gay-themed romance Weekend. Yossi shares with Andrew Haigh’s film a tender, deeply romantic sensibility that gradually leads to a climactic scene of soaring emotion. The climax of Fox’s film points the way toward some sort of resurrection for his protagonist—though the nature of that resurrection is something the film ultimately leaves open. It shows just how successful Yossi is in making us care about its main character that its final cut to black leaves you genuinely curious about whether or not a crucial life decision he makes does indeed mark a positive new stage in his life.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 18—29. For more information click here.