Yossi and Jagger: Gay in the Military B+
Every once in a while an intimate gay film comes along with a crossover power and the ability to please audiences wherever it plays. This is clearly the case of the new Israeli picture, Yossi & Jagger, a gay love story set in the military. The film has broken box-office records in its native country, played the international festival circuit, and is about to open in the US soon after smash showings at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, San Francisco’s Gay and Lesbian, and OutFest, among others.
Modest to a fault, with a running time of 70 minutes, Yossi & Jagger even surprised its talented creators: director and co-writer Eythan Fox and his longtime partner and film’s co-producer, Gal Uchovsky. Dealing with gays in the military, they knew their film would touch hot buttons in Israel, a country plagued with wars and dominated by the military. But they had no idea it would break records and play for three consecutive months in a Tel-Aviv cinema to sold-out houses of both gay and straight patrons.
I immediately realized that the film would resonate among young gay soldiers who seldom have the chance to see themselves portrayed realistically onscreen. However, initially, the Israeli army refused to support the film, though as soon as it opened, soldier began flooding the theater.
One of the highlights of the film’s lengthy engagement was a request by a battalion of combat soldiers (on their way back from duty in the West Bank) to see the film. A formal screening was arranged and later the soldiers met with the movie’s creators for a candid tete-a-tete discussion. It soon became clear that all young people, gay and straight, were touched by the film’s honesty.
Amazingly, Yossi & Jagger is decidedly not a message film propagating the acceptance of gay soldiers in the military. Nor is it a problem film about the need to come out. Rather, in subtle, natural ways, the tale assumes that its two appealing protags have normal, healthy identities. They are: Yossi (Ohad Knoller), a serious-minded but well-liked platoon commander, and Lior (Yehuda Levi), the unit’s commander nicknamed Jagger due to his rock star good looks and cool. The couple’s challenge is how to maintain and express a loving relationship in one of the most conservative contexts, a challenge that becomes more complicated since they serve in the same unit.
This doesn’t mean that there are no tensions within and without their bond. For one thing, only some of their comrades are aware of the affair. For another, Yossi, the more straightlaced of the two, is not as overtly demonstrative or verbal as Jagger would like him to be. Furthermore, at one point, a colonel shows up with female soldiers who show romantic interest in Jagger because “he’s not like the others, there’s something different about him.” And, this being contemporary Israel, the exhausted soldiers, stationed in an outpost near the Lebanese border, are about to embark on yet another dangerous ambush.
Since both men are extremely handsome, audiences may wish to see more explicit sex, though the few romantic scenes–one set out in the unadulterated snow–project a strong erotic aura. Refusing to sacrifice realism for commercialism, and always true to its characters’ persona, Yossi and Jagger also achieves the near-impossible task of avoiding stereotypes. Jagger may be more sensitive and needy than Yossi, but neither soldier conforms to the more familiar, established types, say, the macho officer versus his effeminate lover.
Unlike many gay films that say and show too much, Yossi & Jagger doesn’t overextend its welcome. It’s a measure of the filmmakers’ taste and discretion that at the end of their sweet, melancholy film the audiences are eager to know more about the men.
The Strand release (dates) follows popular engagements in many European countries, particularly Italy, where celebs like Armani rushed to see the picture with a whole entourage. One of the best Israeli movies to come along, Yossi & Jagger does proud to the new international gay cinema.
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