Eytan Fox’s immensely enjoyable new film Yossi could just as easily have been called “How Yossi Got His Groove Back.” It’s a sequel to his acclaimed 2002 film Yossi & Jagger, and it’s a worthy but very different follow-up to that film.

Fox more or less began the New Wave in Israeli films a decade ago with Yossi & Jagger, which was ground-breaking not only because of its subject matter – a romance between two male IDF combat soldiers stationed in the North – but because it was a love story, both comic and tragic, about two quirky, believable human beings, and not a political film.

Those who enjoyed Yossi & Jagger will be pleased to see Ohad Knoller as Yossi again, although, from the opening scene, it’s clear that it hasn’t been easy since he lost Jagger (Yehuda Levy) at the end of the previous film. Yossi is now a doctor in a Tel Aviv hospital, but while his professional identity may be established, the rest of his life has remained incomplete since his lover died. He is still in the closet, something he firmly insisted on when Jagger was alive (and which made Jagger’s death awkward and isolating, as well as painful, since no one knew they were lovers). But in present-day Tel Aviv, his refusal to let people know who he really is just makes his life more complicated. He can’t tell a nurse who is crazy about him that he’s not interested in her, and even with his manic colleague Moti (Lior Ashkenazi), he can’t bring himself to open up.

Yossi seems to have aged 20 years in a single decade. All the opening scenes – in the hospital, Yossi’s apartment, and a Tel Aviv bar – are harshly lit and oppressive. Yossi longs for love and intimacy, but watching cheesy gay porn or going on dates with guys he meets online are no help. A chance meeting with Jagger’s mother (Orly Silbersatz) shakes him up, intensifying his memories and grief. After he makes a careless mistake at work, he is ordered to take some of the vacation time he’s been saving up.

As he drives south en route to Sinai, he meets a group of soldiers who have missed their bus to Eilat and gives them a ride. But while they make fun of his taste in music (too old for them), he begins to be drawn into their group. He can’t help being fascinated by Tom (Oz Zehavi), who is as comfortable being gay in a group of straight men as he is being gorgeous. The heart of the movie is Yossi’s tentative attraction to this young soldier. It isn’t a love story in the conventional sense; it’s not about whether or not they will end up together but about how Yossi begins to reconnect to the world. Yossi’s incremental return to himself is nicely mirrored by the beauty of the Eilat landscape, the luxury of the hotel and the richly colored gaudiness of a floor show.

Yossi’s story is one that virtually everyone will be able to relate to.

While the film lacks the urgency of its predecessor, which took some of its drama from the military conflict that was its backdrop, it reflects the way its protagonist’s life has changed from facing death to learning how to live.

There are some extremely strong and memorable individual scenes, such as Yossi’s date from hell, that work especially well.

The film is called Yossi, and it is Knoller’s movie from start to finish.

One of Israel’s most gifted actors – you may know him as Nati from the television series Srugim or as the bomb disposal officer in Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort – he inhabits the character so completely, that you’ll forget you’ve ever seen him in any other role. He doesn’t shrink from making Yossi frustratingly selfabsorbed and unattractive when the script demands it. All the actors, including Zehavi, Israel’s newest heartthrob, are excellent, but Knoller brings the story to life.

Itay Segal’s script and Eytan Fox’s direction let the plot unfold through moments, gestures and glances, as well as words. Music is always important in Fox’s films, and here Keren Ann performs a lovely ballad.

Israeli films have become so important in recent years, it’s good to see a movie like Yossi, which is a reminder that movies can be both thought-provoking and fun.

Yossi
Directed by Eytan Fox.
Written Itay Segal.
Hebrew title: Hasippur shel Yossi.
Running time: 96 minutes In Hebrew. Check theaters for subtitle information.

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