Philadelphia Film Festival 2012: ‘Yossi’ – an accomplished, sweet love and regret story

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Directed by Eytan Fox

Israel, 2012

Philadelphia Film Festival

Eytan Fox’s follow-up to his 2002 short-feature Yossi & Jagger is an accomplished, sweet love and regret story.

Yossi (Ohad Knoller) is a closeted young doctor. When Varda (Orly Silbersatz) shows up at his hospital for a routine check-up, Yossi’s military and romantic past leads him to a new crossroads in his life.

Yossi is ostensibly divided into two halves. The first half takes place largely in Yossi’s Israeli hospital and the surrounding city and is a trudge towards obvious exposition. It’s the second-half, taking place almost solely in a beach resort, when director Fox’s compositions feel freer and the narrative takes on a looser lilt that Yossi eventually succeeds.

Ohad Knoller gives a strong performance as the title character, but he too feels limited by the stuffy opening to the film. It’s unclear whether Fox thinks that the narrative twist that occurs around the midpoint of the film is a true twist (it may depend on whether the viewer has seen Yossi & Jagger or not) or is an inevitable event that must occur to push Yossi away from the sterile walls of his hospital.

Regardless, the predictability of it all, coupled with the limited range of emotion that Yossi must display – ‘restraint’ for the optimist, ‘persistent frown’ for the pessimist – gets tiresome quickly.

In some sense, this all works to the film’s eventual advantage. When the tone changes as Yossi meets a group of young soldiers and takes particular interest in Tom (Oz Zehavi), so too does Yossi’s performance. Script-wise he simply has more to work with, but his exploration of the unknown – rather than a retread of the past – yields unexpected actorly choices.

One of Knoller’s strongest moments is a simple scene where he talks to Tom’s hungover companions. He tries to get information – where is Tom? – while he concurrently finds the soldiers’ physical exhaustion amusing. It’s a conflict of emotions that plays out well on Knoller’s contained face.

A later sequence where Tom and Yossi walk on the boardwalk eating ice cream and talking about themselves in personal details combines remarkably delicate subtext with silly humor and is probably the finest bit of the film.

Though the beginning of Yossi might drag a bit, it’s perhaps part of a risky strategy that pays off in the end.

Neal Dhand

The Philadelphia Film Festival celebrates 21 years and runs from October 18 to October 28, 2012. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please see the Philadelphia Film Society’s official site.

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