Israeli director discusses revisiting character 10 years later

Ohad Knoller (right) stars as Dr. Yossi Hoffman in ‘Yossi’

By Gary M. Kramer, Special to the Jewish Light

Ten years ago, Eytan Fox’s “Yossi and Jagger” told a heartbreaking love story between two male soldiers in the Israeli military. Now, with “Yossi,” the openly gay Fox offers a sequel to his 2002 classic. Familiarity with the original film is not essential for seeing the sequel; the backstory unfolds and makes sense for viewers who don’t know, or don’t remember, how the first film ended.

In this new drama, Yossi (Ohad Knoller), is a lonely cardiologist who eats bad take-out and uses old photos of himself to pick up guys on the Internet. When he is forced by circumstances to take a vacation, Yossi unexpectedly meets Tom (Oz Zehavi), a young, handsome, and openly gay soldier. A potential romance develops.

Fox admitted in a phone interview from Israel that he never thought he would make a sequel to “Yossi and Jagger,” but he is pleased that he did.

“Part of why I made this was an excuse to explore what happened to Yossi, which is what happened to me, to Israel, and to the gay community over the past 10 years,” he said.

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The filmmaker gives the example of how the Israeli Army has been more accepting and tolerant of gay soldiers as one dramatic change in the decade since “Yossi and Jagger.” He observed, “When I was in the Israeli Army in 1982, the idea of being openly gay was unheard of. All the people I know who were gay in the army were completely closeted. That world has changed.”

“Yossi” explores the idea that the main character is stuck in the past and has a closeted mindset. When Yossi meets Tom, he slowly begins to understand that there are other ways to live as a gay man.

Fox emphasized, “Tom represents the idea that you can be happy with who you are. You can take your clothes off, stand there naked, and say, ‘This is who I am—love me!’” which the attractive Zehavi does in one of the film’s key scenes.

That said, Tom is not out to his family, a complexity Fox found interesting about contemporary gay youth in Israel, and one he incorporated into the film.

“Young hipsters and actors tell me that being gay is a non-issue. And I say, ‘OK, I get it. It’s much easier now, that’s true. Tel Aviv and the world are much more accepting.’ But they have problematic relationships with their parents. Telling their parents ‘This is who I am!’ is difficult for them.”

The relationship between the heavyset and heavyhearted Yossi and the younger, cuter Tom forms the film’s romantic second half, and Fox said his purpose here was, “to show the older generation reaching out the younger generation to teach them how to live better.”

He continued, indicating his dismay that audiences question—as the bewildered Yossi does—why Tom is attracted to a sad, lonely, older man.

“I’m almost offended that a young beautiful man can’t fall for a somber, sophisticated older guy. That’s the wrong way to see desire. Tom sees that Yossi can offer him more than his fun friends can. He’s a doctor, who is smart and reads literature and needs saving. That’s something Tom wants to do—save someone who is in distress.”

Distress in a relationship is something Fox, Knoller, and the film’s screenwriter, Itay Segal, all knew firsthand while making the film. Knoller, who is straight, went through a divorce between “Yossi” films, while Segal, who is gay, broke up with his boyfriend and was mourning the relationship. Similarly, Fox was having a crisis with his partner of 23 years, Gal Uchovsky. (The pair ended their professional relationship after the 2006 film, “The Bubble.”)

The loneliness Fox faced during this period informed the film. “Living in empty apartment, eating bad take out food, watching a lot of porn, falling asleep in front of boring TV and waking up to another day of loneliness [as Yossi does] wasn’t difficult for me to relate orconnect to,” he confessed.

“Ohad and I spoke a lot about the whole feeling of being alone and the fear and confusion that comes with that, and the questions of what being alone brings to your heart and mind. We shared those feelings—plus Itay and I were exposed to the new gay world of Internet dating.”

The filmmaker then emphasized the main point he wanted to make with his film was to show how a person stuck in a bad place frees himself. “Sometimes it’s connected to moving, going in a new direction, or to new places,” he said. “Changing new things in your life—the scenery, the city you live in—which for Yossi is claustrophobic—was going to the desert and meeting new people.”

Now the question that arises is will Fox make a sequel to “Yossi” in 10 years? The filmmaker laughed and answered, “That might be another exercise–to see what happened to Tom in 10 years!”