A decade after his impressive and heartbreaking gay romance Yossi & Jagger, Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox returns to the first half of his title characters to tell a tale of emotional adjustment and sexual reawakening. It’s a somewhat problematic tale to tell from a narrative perspective, but it’s a faithful follow-up in terms of tone and emotion.
Yossi Guttman (the returning Ohad Knoller) has left behind the days of being an Army commander on the Lebanese border and has settled into a dreary, unhappy, workaholic life as a doctor. He never has fun (even seemingly while watching porn on his laptop), lies in his online dating profiles, and he’s still pretty much in the closet; still a wreck over the loss of his one youthful love. Essentially split into two halves, Fox follows Yossi first through his struggles to overcome the post-traumatic stress of losing a loved one and later on a much needed vacation to a resort with a group of young soldiers, including a young man with eyes for him.
In theory and even somewhat stylistically in practice, this isn’t that far removed from what American filmmaker Richard Linklater does in his Before Sunrise trilogy of films in that it revisits a doomed romance long after the spark is gone, but in Yossi half of the partnership is a memory. One hesitates to use the word ghost, because Yossi feels like a spiritless, shell of a man on purpose. It’s also not like Yossi himself is even fully closeted. The door to the closet is open a crack, but there’s a giant chair beneath the door handle that keeps him from busting it open and rejoining the world.
Knoller does a great job as a sad sack trying to stay afloat. He brings a true sense of weariness that sells the vastly better first half of the film where friends are constantly trying to set him up on heterosexual or bisexual dates and trysts (and one spectacularly awful internet date that brings to light just how much Yossi lives in the past). There’s also a really touching sub-plot where he struggles to tell Jagger’s parents about the love they shared. It’s awkward and tense, but it feels real and unpolished like such a situation would appear to an outsider looking in.
The downside to this is that for Fox’s film to have any resonance with viewers, the first film almost becomes an unmissable prerequisite for a true understanding as to just why Yossi would be this beaten down in the first place. The second half of the film, feels a bit more like a copout, sadly. Once Yossi hits the road with the good looking youngsters, the emotions are less stirring as Fox opts to tell a more conventional romantic drama that puts the first half of the film out of sight and out of mind. It’s all very well done, and I guess it’s appropriate since Yossi is a great guy that’s easy to root for an empathize with, but it feels more like a nostalgic throwback to the events of the first film. Instead of telling a story of someone trying to move forward, it becomes a tale of a man reliving the past in reverse.