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June 12, 2013

Yossi

by Franz Patrick


Yossi (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Dr. Yossi Guttman (Ohad Knoller), a closeted homosexual in his thirties, buries himself in work because it helps to numb his grief somewhat since his lover, Lior, passed away ten years ago. Although his co-workers notice his great sadness without knowing the reason why, they invite him to go out anyway so they can blow off steam together, but the cardiologist consistently turns down each offer. When Lior’s mother (Orly Silbersatz Banai)–who does not know Yossi but considers his face familiar–drops by the hospital for an appointment, the doctor offers her a ride home afterward.

“Yossi,” written by Itay Segal and directed by Eytan Fox, is a rare film because it is about a grieving person but the material commands a quiet dignity throughout. A typical dramatic climax in which a character breaks down and causes a scene while expressing deep-seated rage and a well of regret is absent. Instead, it focuses on Yossi’s attempts in covering up what it is clearly there and a slow but reluctant reincarnation of a walking dead, a man who is enslaved by his identity rather than he taking ownership of it and living.

The early scenes take place mostly in a hospital where it is all business: a high pressure environment in which a small mistake can put someone else’s life in danger. Although we feel Yossi’s gloom, we feel his and everyone else’s exhaustion. The doctors I have had the chance to meet and know, it is often that they appear noticeably tired, haggard. Yossi and his co-workers possess a similar look which adds to the realistic texture of the film. Furthermore, the dull colors in the hospital reflect the rut and ennui that have come to define our protagonist’s life.

Knoller plays the title character on the verge of a breakdown. Yossi is quiet but intelligent and the actor is able to communicate an entire thought process by using only his eyes. These are eyes used to doing two things: looking for a physical egress and wearing a lie just so people will not pity or see through their owner. Other times Knoller uses his body, which is not in the best of shape (recognized within the context of the picture), to communicate shame or embarrassment. For instance, he tends to hunch instead of standing up straight.

One of the key scenes involves Yossi finding himself face-to-face with another gay man, obviously into pizzazz and working out, he has met in a chatroom. They sit about two feet facing each other and yet they are worlds apart. We know it will not work between them but the scene is allowed to unfold even if it is awkward and what is eventually said is painful. People are cruel sometimes even to those who least deserve it.

A glimmer of hope comes upon Yossi meeting a group of young soldiers. One of them, Tom (Oz Zehavi), is gay and out to his friends (Meir Golan, Shlomi Ben Attar, Amir Jerassi). Tom is teased but in a playful way. They all make fun of one another for varying reasons. Underneath the jokes is a real sense of camaraderie; there is acceptance among the young men. Even if he is gay, Tom is one of them. Yossi is relieved to see this. Still, the execution leaves enough room for us to wonder if he is a bit saddened by it, too. When he and Lior were in the military, no one was able to entertain the mere idea of two men expressing romantic affections for one another.

This is where the predecessor, “Yossi & Jagger,” also directed by Fox, comes in. I am not convinced that a casual viewer can jump into the story and appreciate it fully without having witnessed what came before. A lot of Yossi’s depression stems from the death of his lover. While Lior is referred to, the screenplay does not drill very deeply as to why he is important to Yossi other than they had a history.

Movies about loss can be manipulative as they tend to rest on generalizations, but “Yossi” avoids the familiar trappings by focusing on the specifics of one person’s struggle to want to live and love again. The popular saying “Time heals all” has always felt phony to me. That phrase sums up a movie that aims to manipulate. For those of us who live in reality, we know that time does not heal all.

I liked the message of the film. I believe “Time leaves some scarring” is more grounded in reality, but it leaves just enough room for implications. Of course, one is required to make a choice to continue to live one’s life as the scarring process takes place. When it is finished, you look down at the scar. Then you make another choice: either you wear it as a badge of memories containing painful but valuable lessons or you consider it as ugly mark that serves no purpose but to be hidden underneath clothing.

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