The delicately bittersweet Israeli drama “Yossi” doesn’t feel like a sequel. Director Eytan Fox’s follow-up to the star-crossed 2002 romance “Yossi and Jagger” is a free-standing film that requires no knowledge of the previous movie. However, some acquaintance with heartache wouldn’t hurt.
In the decade since that first film, Yossi Guttman has progressed significantly career-wise, but he hasn’t made much headway emotionally since his secret boyfriend and fellow soldier, Lior (a.k.a. Jagger), died in combat.
Now a cardiologist, the closeted Yossi (Ohad Knoller) spends his days floating hollowly from task to task before heading home to eat takeout alone, surf the Web and doze in front of the television. The routine feels utterly oppressive, yet Yossi appears disinterested in everything, including breaking out of his inertia. He refuses to take a vacation, while his gray complexion and baggy eyes indicate his whole body may be suffering an overuse injury.
But when Lior’s mother — who doesn’t know Yossi — appears at the hospital for a test, things start to shift. Yossi begins making changes that indicate he could be ready for closure. If only it were so simple to reverse one’s fortunes. Setbacks abound in many forms, from Lior’s denial-ridden mother to a demoralizing blind date with a cruel bar owner who disapproves of Yossi’s soft physique.
The film and the title character feel precarious, teetering on the edge of tragedy, even when the doctor meets a cheerful group of young, open-minded soldiers at a desert rest stop. Yossi gets closer and closer to happiness, if only he could open up to the possibility that he deserves it.
The theme of rebuilding after loss isn’t new, but Fox covers some interesting territory, not the least of which is how much the army has changed since Yossi served. A happy-go-lucky, openly gay soldier named Tom (Oz Zehavi) contrasts poignantly with Yossi’s sad acceptance of his status quo.
So much of the movie succeeds thanks to the baby-faced Knoller, who embodies Yossi with fleeting flashes of suffering that yank hard on the heartstrings. That complements Fox’s head-on approach to awkward situations; the filmmaker doesn’t fast-forward through hard conversations, leaving in extended silences that are so common in life, but not necessarily on screen.
It feels like a risk that pays off. “Yossi” has an air of lightness but never feels insignificant. Of course, if the film teaches anything, it’s that you have to take a chance if you want a reward.
Unrated. Contains nudity, sexual situations and crude language. In Hebrew with English subtitles. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. 84 minutes.