Heart Condition

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Arts & Film, Film.


‘Yossi’ sequel catches up with an international sad sack

Credit Guy Raz

At 34 years of age, Yossi may have a promising career going as a Tel Aviv cardiologist, but when it comes to matters of the heart for himself, the man is in stasis, a lonely heart who can be seen in Eytan Fox’s Yossi downloading porn and even seeking out online encounters (albeit with a significantly younger photo of himself). Yes, Yossi’s heart is still beating, but he doesn’t seem to know exactly what to do about it.

Yossi is the sequel to the 2002 Israeli film Yossi and Jagger, also directed by Fox and both times starring the subtle, sensitive Ohad Knoller. The first film told the bittersweet story of the clandestine relationship between Yossi, an Israeli Defence Force commander, and Lior, his brash seconds-in-command officer. While moving, the first Yossi was a relatively primitive film, narratively straightforward but emotionally compelling. It was, however, a crucial milestone in the portrayal of gay life in the Gaza strip.

A decade later, Yossi is single. He may not be closeted, but his life appears to be hermetically sealed, locked in a kind of self-exile. Yossi doesn’t tell us too much about what has happened in the intervening decade, but the sad-sack look on Yossi’s face and his nebbishy appearance fill in between the lines. The doctor deprives himself of fun, initially refusing a night out with a fellow doctor celebrating his imminent divorce. An encounter with a middle-aged patient also stirs something within the doctor, and provides a nice callback for those who have seen the original (for those who have not, I have been deliberately vague in this review). I do wish that writer Itay Segal had extended this rich portion of the film. While perhaps lacking in originality – it manages to summon emotions from crucial scenes in both Born on the Fourth of July and Brokeback Mountain – it acts as a catalyst, sending Yossi on a literal and metaphorical journey that pushes both borders and boundaries.

Yossi hits the road during the film’s second half, and at a rest stop, he encounters some restless soldiers who’ve just missed the bus back to their hotel. He offers them a ride, and, amid the young men’s dismissal of Yossi’s preferred music, the film – and its protagonist – fixates on one member of the group who demonstrates a familiarity and a respect for Yossi’s taste. He is Tom (Oz Zehavi), whom the other soldiers refer to as “homo,” not as a slur but as a term of endearment. Yossi, on a work-mandated leave, decides to stay at the same Eilat resort.

Here, Segal captures the changing international attitudes regarding sexuality through his two leads. Segal also uses the arts as its own reference tool. Yossi listens Gustav Mahler’s “Adagietto” in the car with the soldiers, and later, poolside, reads Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice(!). Savvy cineastes will pick up on the fact that director Luchino Visconti incorporated “Adagietto” in his film version of Venice. Yossi’s story parallels that of Venice’s own Gustav von Aschenbach, although in this case, it’s Zehavi’s Tom who does the pursuing. Tom is more open and aggressive than Yossi has ever been, and he pursues the schlubby older man both persistently and obviously. There isn’t much conflict here, only Yossi’s internal battle with himself, made apparent both by Fox’s  mise-en-scene  (choosing first to shoot Knoller from above and behind, then later focusing more and more on the man’s face) and Knoller’s own underplaying of Yossi’s painful, yet repressed, yearning to connect. Zehavi, in a gentle performance, is also quite compelling, as are Orly Silbersatz Banai and Shlomo Sadan in supporting roles. (Singers Keren Ann and Devendra Barnhart will also likely draw new fans due to their exposure here.)

The stakes here are both jaw-droppingly low and incredibly crucial. Yossi has little to do other than follow E. M. Forster’s famed edict atop Howards End: “Only connect.” And yet that is a tall order for the naturally inward Yossi. But the film eventually gets so bogged down with Yossi’s own issues that it forgets love and relationships face many other obstacles. It must be said that the movie, rich in so many ways, is nullifyingly simplistic in other ones. Many of the events that befall its protagonist ultimately feel too easy and unearned, and err towards the unconvincing. Yossi may, gratefully, finally choose life. But one still wishes that this sequel had a bit more pulsating within it.

Yossi is playing at the Elinor Bunim Monroe Film Center.

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