Haaretz - Novermber 25, 2002
Victory of the Tabu
Yossi & Jagger is an elusive drama that misleads its audience, and setting them traps along the way. It starts as yet another story about a brigade at a snowy outpost in Lebanon, but soon we discover that the platoon commander, Yossi, and his company commander, Jagger, are a homosexual couple. The screenwriter, Avner Bernheimer, and director, Eytan Fox, thought that the provocation is set when the audience discovers the homosexual inclinations at the Israeli army. The physical sexual act between Yossi & Jagger is explicit, yet not too daring - kisses and snuggles in the snow. At prime-time straight couples can be a lot bolder than that. It seems that Bernheimer and Fox decided, intentionally, to be clear about the nature of the relationship between the two soldiers, but avoid a scandalous scene that will divert the focus from the main issue: the victory of the taboo on homosexuality.
The sexual act is so 'by-the-way' that it looks obvious. The understatement serves the message. Homosexuality is natural, normal. This is not what this story is all about. Moreover, Fox's camera is interested in the snowed scenery, the rabbit and the trees no less than in the two kissing soldiers. They are a part of the scenery. When Yossi & Jagger are left alone their love is not strange. The distortion is a product of the interaction with society. Not only because the two are in uniform, but because Yossi doesn't wants to come out of the closet. He has absorbed the 'no-gays-aloud' law so deeply, that even in the moment of truth he'll follow that law. This is the tragedy.
The viewer expects a conventional climax: A big confrontation that will force the disclosure of the secret. There is no confrontation. Jagger does not confess to Yaeli with his secret. Yossi & Jagger are not caught by others during their act of love. Jagger does not publicly announce their love. He sits with the soldiers at the table and 'teases' them: 'What would you do if I told you I am gay?' The teasing is not taken seriously as a confession, but as a joke. The tension dissolves with general laughter. The plot seems to lead to an inevitable disclosure of the secret, especially when Jagger poses an ultimatum to Yossi - going public or breaking up. The most dramatic ingredient is the secret that Jagger is dying to tell.
The inevitable separation happens when Jagger is killed during a nightly ambush. Ofir eavesdrops on the two of them whispering words of love while Jagger is dying, but keeps it to himself. At the final scene, at Jagger parents' house, the parents are left under the impression that Yaeli was Jagger's girlfriend, and no one corrects that impression. The mother admits that she didn't really know her son. One would expect that Yossi will honor his late lover's memory in a dramatic confession. And yet, once again, the movie is avoiding that obvious option. Yossi keeps silent, smiles to himself. The most important aspect of Jagger's personality is hidden from the people that cared about him the most. Jagger died as a soldier, as an unknown soldier in a way. This is a tragic ending. At the end, the fear and the elusion have the upper hand. Jagger has accepted his sexual inclinations very naturally, but in his death, as well as in his life, he had to give up to conformity.
As in every successful drama, the viewers are left with very disturbing questions. The burdensome secret that almost got out, but eventually didn't, proves that the unspoken word has a bigger impact and strength.