Outrate - June 2003
Mark Adnum

True Love

After a brief and fruitless stint in Hollywood, director Eytan Fox returned to Israel and made the beautiful and passionate "Yossi & Jagger". Though it only runs 67 minutes, "Yossi & Jagger" captures some of the constricted spirit of Israeli youth and presents one of the most resonant gay film romances ever.

Yossi (Ohad Knoller) is a diligent company commander overseeing his troops at a snowy camp near the Lebanese border. He's having an affair with one of his charges, Jagger (Yehuda Levi) and though the situation makes intimacy difficult, both seem happily in love. Jagger talks of their future, which in his plans involves travel, and lots of family dinners, all with Yossi at his side. Yossi isn't sure that he's ready to leave the army, and has too many serious responsibilities to indulge in Jagger's romantic dreams. One night, the squad prepares for an ill-advised mission where fate and a bomb get in the way.

At first it seems that the film is moving dangerously close to clich? with its too quick characterizations and a predictable and sentimental story. But what emerges is a touching portrait of a country's youth being transplanted to the front lines to spend some of the best years of their lives dodging bullets, and eating canned meat. Compulsory military service in Israel doesn't involve camps and drills - it's real fighting, with real flames, crosshairs and bullets. Some twenty year olds lose their limbs, others lose their lives. Commendably though, the film doesn't overstate its case here: it's too short and fast moving, and there's no time for preaching. It's not until the film is over, actually, that you start to consider certain realities.

Likewise, there's no cringe-inducing plea for gay tolerance. Yossi and Jagger are two guys in love, with distinct personalities, and no cause to push but their own personal objectives. They're also both gorgeous, especially Ohad Knoller, who generates the kind of sensual heat unseen since Brad Davis in Midnight Express. A talented young actor, with mainly stage credits, Knoller is marvelous as the quietly accomplished Yossi, who loves his man, but also loves his job. Knoller's Yossi yearns for his lover, but gets a bit distant after he's blown his load, and though he's always got an eye out for his man, he doesn't pine or cling. Knoller is utterly convincing. He's excellent, and unforgettable. Popular Israeli TV star Levi creates a light and extroverted Jagger, who's the life of the barracks and a perfect match for his brooding lover.

Those wanting to make anti-war and anti-homophobia statements will no doubt hijack the sweet heart and real emotion of "Yossi & Jagger". That's a shame, for the film covers those good-cause bases quickly, and gets on with efficiently telling its (apparently true) story. "Yossi & Jagger" is very short and very sweet.