Il Manifesto - 28 May 2003
Gianni Rossi Barilli

Love and War Beyond the Borders

A preview screening of "Yossi & Jagger" by Israeli director Eytan Fox at the Milan Gay Film Festival. An anti-war movie that tells the true story of two soldiers from Tel Aviv. The movie, applauded in Berlin, will start playing in the Italian theaters on Friday.

MILAN. Love and war, the classic ingredients of international melodrama, is the fatal pair on which the story of "Yossi & Jagger" is based. The Israeli movie by Eytan Fox will be presented tomorrow at the Pasquirolo Theater in Milan (as part of the 17th Gay and Lesbian Film Festival), and soon afterwards will reach the rest of the country's movie theaters. The actual war, though, is not a mythological and dusty one, as it often happens in melodramas. This war is in the news, and with its horrors, it marks each day the lives of people in Palestine and Israel, feeding the bad conscience of the Western world. Likewise, the love told by "Yossi & Jagger" also stands quite outside the usual parameters, since at the center of the story lies a gay relationship based on true events.

The only shift between the movie and reality is that of time, since the true story, which happened to a friend of the director's, dates back a few years, while the cinematic adaptation appears to be set in our days. This also reminds us that the war is far from being over.

We are in an isolated Israeli army outpost at the border with Lebanon. Yossi is a career officer and Jagger (whose name is pronounced just like the Rolling Stones' [Mick] Jagger) is one of his best sub-commanders. They are both as handsome as the characters in a TV movie, and they are in love. If it were not for the fact that they are both in the army, this could seem like a boring kind of happiness. But the army's homophobic conventions, as well the "inner cop" that especially Yossi bears carved in his brains, makes for quite a shaky situation. Any moment of tenderness between the two requires the appropriate time and place, and they have to keep away from inquiring eyes, although in the end everybody knows what's going on. They need not to think about what will happen "afterwards", trying to stay alive in order to perhaps deal later with the insurmountable difficulty of declaring their love to the outside world. Unfortunately, there will be no time for this, and a tragedy within the tragedy will take place. However, pain will leave a trace and will help gaining the consciousness that will allow the story to be told.

Such a sentimental plot is enriched by further emotional details in the depiction of other characters, of their lives and their interrupted - if not definitively broken by war - dreams. Next to the main characters are other soldiers, boys and girls in their twenties, very similar to any European post-adolescent, exception made for the uniform and the rifle they carry. Some keep a hope in the future by turning their army food in "Franco-Lebanese" haute cuisine. Others strive to find a balance by relying upon Oriental philosophical wisdom. A few more simply fall in love without knowing that it is only an unachievable illusion.

Because of its density of peaceful feelings, "Yossi & Jagger" is a movie against the war even though it does not convey any direct political message, and describes the "enemy" as a metaphysical entity. The representation of feelings is tearing, rather than healing, because the movie conveys the striving for freedom and for an unattainable lightheartedness. Perhaps this is the reason why, as director Eytan Fox told yesterday in Milan, the Israeli Army did not want to cooperate in the making of the movie. After "Yossi & Jagger" reached the movie theaters, however, the high command had to change their attitude: "There were groups of soldiers - tells Fox - who independently got together to watch the movie. Then the army gave in, and organized screenings for the army. It was very interesting to see these soldiers, at first sitting very stiff and embarrassed, and as the story went along, melting down, getting closer, putting a hand on the neighbor's shoulder and crying." Besides imposing itself to the attention of the army, "Yossi & Jagger" succeeded in finding the approval of the Israeli public and of the critics. Considering its message, this is certainly a good sign.