Eytan Fox’s new film envisions a second chance for the one-time soldier of the downbeat Yossi & Jagger (02), a much celebrated work among queer-film aficionados. The hopeful sequel finds Yossi, again played by Ohad Knoller, living a closed-off existence some 10 years after the death of his secret lover Jagger. He spends his days working as a cardiologist in a Tel Aviv hospital, filling the sexual gaps in his essentially closeted life with porn and the occasional online hookup. When Jagger’s mother, Varda (Orly Silbersatz Banai), unexpectedly comes in for a checkup, Yossi’s psychological stasis is irreversibly broken. He finally confesses his past affair with Jagger to Varda and Jagger’s father, before taking an unannounced vacation in the Sinai.
Fox sketches Yossi’s journey from Tel Aviv to the countryside with a gradually expanding visual palette: dimly lit, claustrophobic city interiors segue into expansive shots of blue sky and desert vistas. The shift visualizes Yossi’s emotional thaw all too clearly, and it moves the film away from enticing narrative avenues that might have been explored in greater depth. Before Yossi reveals to Varda his history with Jagger, the two share a couple of quiet scenes that offer poignant glimpses into their differing-yet-linked emotional circumspection. Yossi’s quasi-friendship with a recently divorced fellow doctor, Moti (Lior Ashkenazi), proves even more intriguing, as his womanizing colleague at once aggressively pushes Yossi into his world of heterosexual hookups and displays the slightest hints of desire for Yossi himself. A three-way encounter between the two men and a random woman in a Tel Aviv bar bathroom has a grimy, potent energy.
Yossi ultimately drops these knotty relationships for the possibility of sun-dappled romantic redemption. Yossi offers a ride to a group of twentysomething soldiers en route to a southern Israeli hotel. He catches a flirtatious glint in the eye of one of the young men, Tom (Oz Zehavi), and accepts his offer to join them for a weekend of dancing and drinking. Casually open about his homosexuality, Tom begins to pursue Yossi, whose guardedness begins to be worn down by Tom’s sweet-tempered advances. Tom himself is more concoction than character: his youthful energy and old-soul musical tastes seem tailor-made to break through Yossi’s defenses. As such, their slow-burn romance has a strong undertow of wish fulfillment. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, though there isn’t much interesting about it either.
What elevates Yossi beyond the level of queer-cinema fan-fic is Knoller’s superb performance. His face perennially hovering between a knowing smile and a quiet wince, Knoller reveals the relentless toll of Yossi’s regret and erotic longing in subtle, simple strokes: the tensing of shoulders at the thought of a massage; the half-tear forming in his eye while listening to a chanteuse sing a love ballad. Knoller’s grace and warmth don’t make the film’s vision any less sentimental, but it does make that sentiment feel earned.