Movie Review - Yossi

Ohad Knoller (left) and Oz Zehavi
play characters vacationing in "Yossi"

Of all the sequels released so far this year, Yossi is my favorite and by far the best. Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox revisits a character he left ten years ago. That character was essentially living Brokeback Mountain but set in a snowy war zone. For this one, the main character is basically living out How Stella Got Her Groove Back, minus the sassy, seasoned companion that was Whoopi Goldberg. Eytan Fox has had steamy sex scenes in his films before, but, in this movie, in which the two characters don't have sex, Fox achieves what is probably the sexiest and at the same time most romantic moment on screen in a while.

Having seen the original movie isn't required in order to understand or enjoy this sequel. Ohad Knoller (Beaufort and The Bubble) stars as Yossi Guttman, a cardiologist at a Tel Aviv hospital. His boss, the possible chief of staff, recommends Yossi go on a vacation. Yossi wants to work, even when he makes a drastic mistake, because it's clear that work is all he has. He's lonely. He doesn't have many friends or family in his life. At night, he watches porn, not really pursuing serious relationships.

Lior Ashkenazi (Late Marriage and Footnote) co-stars as Moti Hoffman, a fellow doctor who is in the midst of a divorce and who has a drug problem. Moti is the only friend that Yossi has. He also serves as Yossi's foil. The way that Moti reacts or responds to situations is almost the polar opposite to Yossi.

Both Yossi and Moti are dealing with the end of relationships. Moti is happy to let go of his wife and hit a nightclub to prowl for new women. Yossi, on the other hand, isn't happy to let go of anything. It seems he hasn't gotten over his relationship, depicted in the previous film. Getting Yossi to go to a nightclub at all is like pulling teeth. He's not a total shut-in, but he's hesitant to reach out because he has self-esteem issues. He still reaches out, but he's gun-shy because he's slightly overweight. He's not old, but he's a bit unkempt.

For those who haven't seen the original movie, Yossi's interest in one of his patients will play as a mystery. A later scene with that patient mirrors the ending of the original movie, except it plays differently. Yet, just as Ennis Del Mar got to go up to Jack Twist's bedroom, a bedroom that will never be lived in again, Yossi gets that same moment. While Heath Ledger's performance indicates a finality and no real future for Ennis, Knoller's performance along with Fox's camerawork indicates the opposite for Yossi and that instead there is a second act.

Oz Zehavi plays Tom, a young soldier in the Israeli army who is traveling with several other soldiers to southern Israel. They're going to vacation at the beautiful, resort city of Eilat, which lies at the mouth of the Red Sea. Yossi meets Tom along the way. Of the four soldiers, Tom is the only one who recognizes Gustav Mahler's music.

Of course, Fox includes the shots and subtle signals that suggest both Yossi and Tom's gaydar is being alerted. Their pairing still seems unlikely. While Tom is getting massages and diving bikini-up into swimming pools, Yossi is reading Death in Venice, while remaining fully covered, a turtle in his shell. It's interesting to see Fox craft a dynamic that is similar to the dynamic in the original movie. It's not the same, but, for those who saw the original movie, the parallels between Tom and Jagger are apparent.

Tom, though, is a combination of Yossi and Jagger, spirit-wise, and like Jagger, Tom comes against the same problem that's within Yossi, and that problem is self-shame. The penultimate scene explicates that. There are things about himself that Yossi wants to keep hidden. In the original movie, the bone of contention was a bunny rabbit. This time, it's a light switch.

In the ultimate scene, Fox incorporates 'Now That I Know' by Devendra Banhart from 2005 on the soundtrack. The lyrics to which perfectly express this shame inside Yossi. Banhart sings, "Twelve years old / In your mama's clothes / Shut the blinds and lock up every door." For Yossi, he can have the fortitude of a twelve-year-old. Being in your mama's clothes is an easy euphemism for being gay and instead of shutting the blinds, Yossi wants the light-switch shut off.

More lyrics from Banhart's song so elegantly encapsulate Yossi's feelings. Banhart vocalizes, "Years away / Finds me here today / On my own and knowless of my way now," which are sentiments for Yossi prior to hitting the road to Eilat. For Fox to use this song the way he does shows a filmmaker who clearly understands his character.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains nudity and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 25 mins.

Israeli music artist Keren Ann guest stars in the film. Her songs are also well used on the soundtrack. 'Lay Your Head Down' is the featured track.


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