Haaretz - September 19, 2002
Ari Shavit

Yossi & Jagger and the Next War

Avner Bernheimer and Eytan Fox didn't intend to make a patriotic film. On the contrary. They meant to make a somewhat subversive film about love between men in uniform. However, unintentionally, the very human movie they created is a film that does a very good job of telling the story of the present situation in Israel.

Yossi & Jagger was produced as a 65-minutes low-budget television film for the Israeli Cable Programming (it's supposed to be broadcasted in November). It's not a big movie. It's modest in terms of dialogue, direction and artistic pretensions. The film has no message and no politics. It makes no historical statement and has no philosophical profundity. Not even one Jewish or Zionist statement is made as it tells a small story about a snowed-in Israeli border outpost. Yossi & Jagger is an honest story about the life and death of young Israelis today.

Yossi is an authoritative company commander. His lover Jagger is a handsome and charismatic platoon commander. But aside from the love story, the film also includes a soldier who longs for Tibetan spirituality, a soldier who is a chef and makes a wonderful sushi from army loof (spam), an obtuse and coarse battalion commander, a captivating woman soldier with loose morals, a very romantic woman soldier, and an entire group of Israeli 20-year-olds whose real common interest is lust for life.

But, as much as in real life, death closes in on Israelis who are full of vitality. Without their understanding why, death wants them. And every night they go to meet it. Without ideology and without waving the flag.

The creators of Yossi & Jagger are leftists. In their private lives they oppose the occupation, the war, the right and the religious. When they decided to make an apolitical film about the loves and behavior and longings of Israeli soldiers in an isolated outpost, the film's dynamic was stronger than them: It presented a touching portrait of the liberal society that has developed here during the past two decades. A society that still has a hard time defining itself and telling its story.

A society that is democratic to its roots. A society that is really characterized not by messianism or by art, but by a fascinating and unholy combination of hedonism, spontaneous liberalism and a free spirit.

The IDF decided not to cooperate with the producers of Yossi & Jagger. An understandable but mistaken decision. Eytan Fox's camera does something rare and courageous: It loves the Israeli fighters of 2002. It grants them that same affection that neither the international community, nor the local intellectual elite, is capable of granting them. And while it is exposing the lack of fluency, the immaturity, and the vulnerability of Israelis of the new generation, it also embraces them.

That's why the young audience is streaming to the nighly screenings at the Tel-Aviv Cinematheque. That's why soldiers from the Givati Brigade ask to see the film before they go down to fight in the Gaza Strip. So they can sit in the dark theater and laugh with Yossi & Jagger, love with Yossi & Jagger and moan with them. Because Yossi, Jageer, Adams, Yaniv, Goldie and Yaeli are us. They are what has been taking shape here, democracy under siege. An isolated open society in an ocean of dictators. The only place in the Middle East where men can love men and women can love women, where individuals, misfits and minorities have certain rights.

Within the next few months a new war will apparently break out here. We have withstood the war of the past two years without Israel having put together a defined narrative of significance. Without having decided if it's a war of occupiers against the occupied, or a war of besieged Jews.

Before the next war, however, we will have to define things precisely. We will have to understand that this time the test will be unequivocal: Is the democratic hedonism of Yossi & Jagger and their friends and parents capable of defending its world? Is Israel's open society capable of facing its enemies?