Directors who have just released a film tend to be a bit frantic. They are
trying to coordinate a lot of interviews and appearances at once, while fielding
calls from well-wishers. Their agent may phone with news about film festivals or
producers who want to offer them other projects. But while I’ve interviewed many
directors at this heady stage of their careers, I’ve never talked to anyone as
ecstatic, nervous and exhilarated as Eytan Fox was last week.
him in a two-day window between the premiere of Yossi, his long-awaited
follow-up to Yossi & Jagger, and the beginning of shooting on his next
feature, tentatively titled Bananot (the Hebrew word for bananas, but also a
play on the Hebrew word for daughters or girls).
At the noisy Café 48 in
Nahalat Binyamin in Tel Aviv, he talks about the world premiere of Yossi at the
Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in April, saying, “It was nice.” The
usually loquacious 47-year-old, New York City-born director, one of the
filmmakers in the forefront of the renaissance in Israeli cinema, is temporarily
at a loss for words.
The film opened the World Narrative Competition,
which was a big honor. Asked whether he watched the movie when it was screened
there, he says, “Of course. This is what you’ve worked on for years. And then
it’s time to show this to the world. You now hope that the world appreciates
what you have tried to do.... It’s a difficult time for a filmmaker and a
It’s like giving birth. You have a child and you send him off to
first grade and then, in our crazy world, to the army. You’re proud of your kid
and you’re terrified. You’re anxious. Will people appreciate him? Will
they love him? All these emotions come into it.”
So far, they have loved
Yossi, in which Ohad Knoller, perhaps best known these days as Nati from the
television series about religious singles in Jerusalem, Srugim, reprises his
role as Yossi. Yossi has been alone with his secret grief over the death of his
lover at the end of the previous film for a decade. Times may have
changed for gays in Israel, but Yossi remains firmly closeted about his
sexuality, which causes enormous problems for him, from socially awkward
encounters with a female nurse who has a crush on him, to a deep feeling of
isolation and loneliness. Then a chance meeting with a figure from his
past sends him on a road trip during which he is able to look inward, and, at
the same time, to embrace the world around him.
“I’m really happy with
it,” says Fox. “It’s a very personal film for me.” In a way, that seems odd
coming from Fox, who has been very vocal about being part of the gay community.
But while the film certainly isn’t autobiographical, he feels very connected to
this character, and says that it’s a film about a journey of self-discovery that
can appeal to all audiences.
One scene in particular will strike a chord
with anyone who’s ever been on a bad date arranged online. A female crew member
“was crying. She said, ‘That scene brought back every rejection I’ve ever
Fox first became famous on the international movie scene a decade ago,
when Yossi & Jagger
, a taboo-breaking film about the romance between two male
IDF soldiers stationed near the Lebanese border, became a hit at film festivals
around the world and then was released commercially.
It was an improbable
success story for a low-budget, 65-minute film that was originally produced for
Israeli television. Knoller won the 2003 Best Actor Award at the Tribeca Film
Festival for his performance.
But although this was Fox’s breakout film,
he had been working in Israeli TV (directing the hit series Florentin
movies (the big-screen version of the novel Siren Song
success of Yossi & Jagger
, Fox went on to helm the dramas Walk on Water
about a straight Mossad agent tasked with keeping an eye on the gay grandson of
an infamous Nazi, and The Bubble
, about the tragic romance between a Palestinian
and an Israeli soldier.
After he completed The Bubble
in 2006, several
projects he had hoped to make fell through. He turned his attention back to
television, directing the miniseries Mary Lou
, about a young man who comes to
Tel Aviv searching for his mother and ends up joining a drag cabaret act. This
series, like Yossi & Jagger, which was originally intended for local
consumption, ended up going around the world, and was shown at Jewish, Israeli
and gay film festivals.
But for years, Fox had mulled a sequel about the
Yossi character. Then, suddenly, financing fell into place.
work on developing a film for four years or whatever, and Yossi had been in some
phase of development for quite a while.”
But then, he quickly needed a
finished script and got in touch with journalist Itay Segal.
first film,” says Fox. “I said, ‘It’s not one of your columns. It has to be a
script I can shoot.’ He said, ‘I’m a journalist. I’m used to deadlines.’ I gave
him a structure and he came up with 100 pages of dialogue in about 10
Knoller helped put his stamp on the character he knew so
“Me and Ohad have been working together for so many years. I
discovered him when he was a student.
We’re getting older. We’re not kids
anymore. He said that on The Bubble
[in which Knoller starred], we didn’t talk
about the character enough. He wanted this to be more focused.”
couldn’t be happier with what Knoller ended up bringing to the
“I’ve never had a character so nuanced, and that was Ohad,” he
says. “It was a great experience. Just the way he did the reaction shots made
The characters often speak in the film of how badly Yossi has
aged, and Knoller had to appear opposite the much younger Oz Zehavi, Israel’s
“He [Knoller] really put himself on the line. He had
no vanity about it.”
He’d like to talk more about Knoller, and Yossi, but
he doesn’t have that much time; he has a meeting with a key crew member on
. It’s the story of a group of female friends, played by some of Israel’s
leading actresses – Anat Waxman, Yael Bar-Zohar, Dana Ivgy, Efrat Dor and Keren
Berger – and one token male (Ofer Schechter), who write a song that ends up
being Israel’s entry in an international song contest.
“They are all
different types and all different professions,” he says. “We got an original
song by the Scissor Sisters [an American pop group] that they wrote but never
recorded. We translated it into Hebrew. It’s a truthful, romantic
The film evokes Fox’s fond memories of a kinder, gentler Israel
where everyone would gather to watch music competitions at their neighbors’
“It’s a different energy from Yossi
,” says Fox.
about an invitation from the Berlin Festival to show Bananot in 2013, Fox
discusses the shooting schedule and momentarily lets the stress show. But only
for a moment.
“The inspiration is Jacques Demy films, like The Umbrellas
,” he says.
And he’s off again, discussing the color schemes
planned for the different characters’ apartments, until it’s time for his next