Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Eytan Fox's YOSSI opens, picking up a decade later from his Yossi & Jagger

Remember Yossi & Jagger? That sweet, short, sad Israeli movie of a decade ago told the tale of two young men in the Israeli army who fall in love and con-summate their love, briefly, before one of them is killed. Ten years later, the film's director Eytan Fox (shown below) -- who's gone on to make two other good films (Walk on Water and The Bubble) -- comes back to his earlier creation, this time written by Itay Segal (the earlier film's screenplay was by Avner Bernheimer). The result, YOSSI, is in some ways his best work.

In earlier films, Fox has tried (with surprising success, it must be said) to pack in a ton of ideas, events, situations and characters. While this made the movies bracing and exciting, it also made maybe a little too much room for melodrama and coincidence. In this latest film, Fox sticks most heavily to character, placing it above even situation, thus letting the man Yossi -- and the wonderful actor who plays him, Ohad Knoller (shown below) -- nail the movie. And nail it Knoller does.

On screen at almost every moment, and certainly in every scene, this Teddy Bear of a man is so constrained by his "closeted" self that he has trouble connecting with what he most desires. This gives Yossi, the man and the movie, enormous feeling, irony and weight (yes, our guy is a little chubby, but only to the point that he makes for a really good, soft cuddle).

The movie starts out as a character study (and pretty much stays there), as our Yossi, now a successful physician, tries a little internet dating but comes up against the reality of a funny, nasty and jolting "gentleman" (below) who gives our hero a dose of unpleasant reality.

Along the way Fox morphs his movie into a kind of road trip during which Yossi is tested by himself and by others as he slowly, finally comes out of his shell. Just a bit. The filmmaker is happy not to tie up every loose end, and so, while we can imagine we've got a "happy ending," a moment or two later, we realize that this is just the beginning of what might or might not be, down the road, some kind of major change.

The film is full of smart touches and excellent performances -- espe-cially from Israeli star Lior Ashkenazi (shown above, left), as a physician friend of Yossi, super macho, who treats the hospital's beverage machine like your typical Palestinian -- "All they understand is force!" -- while he whomps said machine into giving up a can of soda.

There's a strange, wonderful and fraught scene between Yossi and the parents of the late Jagger, and some smart funny interplay between our hero and a quartet of army boys (above) to whom he gives a lift in his car. One of them, Tom (the sweet and hot Oz Zehavi, shown below, right), will take a liking to Yossi, turning the remainder of the film into a charming, low-key "will she or won't she?" scenario, with the she now a he.

As I say, because filmmaker Fox chooses character and moment above the large themes and plot devices of his last two films, Yossi succeeds mightily in its miniature manner. The movie, from Strand Releasing and running 84 minutes, opens this Friday, January 25, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and in the Los Angeles area on February 8 at Laemmle's Town Center 5 and Playhouse 7.

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